Sunday, November 04, 2007

Going to the Dogs

Every week before I leave for my volunteer shift at the hospital, Gary says, "Good luck. I hope nobody dies."

"Thanks," I always answer. "I hope so too." And most of my shifts have been blessedly death-free. But I showed up for a recent shift and was immediately flagged down by the caseworker.

"Susan! We need you today. We've just had an expiration."

I hate that word, which makes the patient sound like a carton of milk; I really wish the medical staff would just say that a patient has died. But the term seems to be firmly embedded in the hospital lexicon, so I just winced and kept my opinion to myself.

The patient was elderly, which didn't make the death any easier on the spouse and grown child. I spent the better part of an hour with them, on and off: I prayed with them, but mostly listened, as various nurses did, too. (The department was quiet enough to allow this, which is unusual.) The physician who'd worked on the patient joined us as we said the Lord's Prayer.

I also helped relay questions and requests to the caseworker. Did the family have to wait for the coroner? (No.) Here's the name of the funeral home the family has selected. (Oh, good, we can call and have them pick up the body.) Oh, and here's a new one: they want the patient's pacemaker donated to a veterinary hospital, to be given to a dog. (Say what?)

I'd never heard of this. Neither had the caseworker. But the family had seen it on Animal Planet and loved the idea, and a family friend who was with them had donated her dead husband's pacemaker to a veterinarian, to be given to some needy pooch.

The caseworker scratched his head and said, "Well, sure, I guess the funeral home can do that. I don't see why not."

The family was pleased when I told them their wishes would be honored. And when I gave them my patented take care of yourself during this stressful time speech, the spouse said, "Oh, I have to! I have a dog at home who depends on me!"

I know that organ donation can help families ease some of the pain of death, by allowing their loved ones to give other people new life. As an animal lover, I was moved to learn that posthumous donations can help non-human loved ones, too.


  1. Readers may also be interested in this post at Episcopal Cafe.

  2. How great that you were there for the family! I am chuckling a bit because I read this post early Monday morning after an overnight shift; I was called to the hospice center for a death, and while I was finishing some charting to ask for extra bereavement support for a very stressed family member, the charge nurse came out of the room and walked down the hall saying something like, well, just lost another one. MUCH different in the hospice where death is so expected than the ED where death is so very much the worst that can happen!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.