Does death have a smell? - page 4

by AngelfireRN 115,876 Views | 101 Comments

Just wondering if anyone else has experiences like this? I first noticed it when I was in nursing school, and we were orienting on the floor. We would go in a room with a patient, and I would smell this sicky-sweet odor, and... Read More


  1. 3
    yes, death has a smell.
    very hard to describe...
    but it is sweet, pungent yet i also understand that 'acetone' smell too.

    not the same smell as cancer, which has a rotting smell.

    i always wondered if this smell was r/t spirits gathering around the pt, to guide them home.

    leslie
    mc3, BabyRN2Be, and AngelfireRN like this.
  2. 1
    Quote from annaedRN
    Yes- I have smelled that same sickly-sweet smell many a time.
    YES!
    Exactly.

    To me it smells-sickly-sweet.

    I worked in LTC for years and came to know that odor well!

    Between the smell and the first subtle changes in appearance, you can see death coming.
    Those who don't recognize these things will think you've got ESP or that you sense something "otherworldly" when your prediction is correct, but those of us who have seen it many times over just know from sheer experience.

    Interesting.
    AngelfireRN likes this.
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    I don't think you're a freak, but this thread has really freaked me out!:uhoh21:

    I know having to deal with death comes with nursing, but this would give me the heebeejeebees!

    Oh please let me forget this thread the next time I go to a hosptital. I can just see myself walking down the hall sniffing and looking spooked!
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    Okay, that explains a lot. My dad died when I was about 4. I thought he was lying down for a nap, but he was actually having a heart attack. I fell asleep next to him. Years later, his mom died, and in the hospice. I thought that smell was hospice smell. I smelled it my first clinical day in LTC. And every time I've been around someone (who I thought was just my luck to be around in someones last hours) I've KNOWN, even if no one else did, that they were going to die. Happened with my DH's cousin, a man on another clinical rotation. I always thought it was more of an instinct. Like I just KNEW. So maybe I've been smelling that smell, and either recognizing it and realizing death was coming, or internalizing the smell and knowing DIC.

    Hmmmm, off to ask the hubs, he's a fire fighter and has seen quite a bit of death. He always wondered how I could look at someone and know, just like he does. But (and I'm not being insensitive here) maybe the charred, burned smell covers it up for him? Anyone on a burn unit notice this?
    AngelfireRN likes this.
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    Hmmm. I wonder why certain people smell it, and others don't.........do you think we have super-sensitive noses, or are we just extra-special? And now that you mention it, I have also noticed the gaze in the eyes, too. It's a very far-away look, like they're looking into heaven. I noticed that on my kitties that have passed, too :redpinkhe.
    Interesting!
    mc3
    sharpeimom and AngelfireRN like this.
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    As a naughty smoker, I certainly do not have a wicked sense of smell, but I think somewhere I was able to pick up on this smell and it clicked that this smell occurs with death.

    BUT I only know about the elderly who are sick and death is but a matter of time.
    It makes sense to me there is an odor.
    These folks have probably been in the process of "shutting down" for some time (even though they were happily boppin' and hoppin' about a mere 2 days ago, or whatever).
    If this is the case, there has to be some chemical/physical ruckus going on in their bodies... craziness with electrolytes... dying tissues... bleeding... pooped organs...
    I could imagine any of these things could produce a smell.

    Why sickly-sweet?
    I don't know, but you sorta get the same scent with dying plants.

    Just my thoughts on a fascinating (to me) topic.
    AngelfireRN likes this.
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    Asked DH last night and he says he felt it was an incontinence smell. He's smelled both...people dying, and people who've been dead for a while, and he feels the dying smell is more like feces and urine seeping out of pores, than decomp.
    AngelfireRN likes this.
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    The small boy looked at Bruce Willis and said "I smell dead people". Sorry I couldn't resist. I've smelled this odor, too. Dehydration and organ shut down.
    AngelfireRN likes this.
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    Quote from Whispera
    I wonder if part of the smell you're talking about is related to dying patients having ketoacidosis. That's a sweet smell...
    I think it's this. Especially as people are also describing an acetone smell too.

    eta: Do you have sweets (candy) called 'pear drops' in the US?
    AngelfireRN likes this.
  10. 1
    Yes I've smelled it. The smell is extremely icky sweet with patients in liver failure. I think it is just the smell of multi-organ failure/death.

    I've had many CNAs say things like I've bathed them and bathed them and they still smell.... death usually follows shortly
    AngelfireRN likes this.


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