Saturday, August 1, 2009

Sometimes you can tell

For some reason I've been thinking about adding this post regarding the physical appearance of death. Don't really know why it's been hanging around in my head but here it is.

Sometimes when someone dies you can tell if their death has been quick and relatively painless or traumatic and painful. I suppose it isn't necessary to know these things for most people but I've found that when I'm dispatched to a location for either cardiac arrest or DOA I'm curious to see what physical expression the patient's body and face are in. When someone's heart stops (which is known as clinical death) their blood immediately begins to settle (called lividity) and the process of rigor mortis slowly begins. Environmental conditions will effect the speed and duration of the various stages of rigor mortis but it generally takes about an hour for the newly dead to slowly stiffen.

The body will tend to stiffen in the exact pose/position that remained at the time of death. Sort of like when your mom told you that your face would freeze that way if you kept making that silly face; only this effects the entire body.

I've found that most people appear peaceful at their death. Faces are relaxed, body is in some sort of position of comfort and their overall condition appears to be calm, maybe surprised but nothing unusual. I like to believe that these souls passed peacefully.

But then there are those that do not pass peacefully. Their expressions are horrified, shocked and/or grimaced in what looks to be pain or some other type of suffering. These poor souls did not pass smoothly. I believe in most circumstances that it's good to fight to live but I also believe in death with dignity. Traumatic or unexpected death for most people tends to leave its traces and I have seen truly horrific expressions on some patients' faces and occasionally their entire body.

I've had occasions when I've explained to family members that have yet to see their dead loved one, that perhaps not seeing the body in that particular condition is a better idea. If those traumatic scenes stay clearly within my memory (and I never knew the person in life) then how much more cloying would these same scenes be for those who knew and loved them? Usually the family members take my advice and allow the professionals to collect and prepare the body before they view it but sometimes they don't and their expressions tell me that they will never forget how their loved one died.

Sometimes ignorance is bliss and when I don't have to have these memories engraved into my brain (which they will do because I tend to remember most things to the eternal grief of my husband lol) then I will avoid allowing them in. But if I can't spare myself the memory the least I can do is spare the family.

1 comment:

  1. So you have a very, very serious side and your thoughts run deeply. Yes, sometimes ignorance is bliss and definitely so with a family whose loved one had a difficult time at death.
    We should all be lucky enough to die in the middle of the night in our own bed.


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