Does death have a smell? - page 7

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

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    You are not a freak........I have noticed what I call the "death smell" too. It is a distinct odor and the patient usually has clinical signs to concur with the smell. I get a very HUGE gut feeling and I know it is going to happen. It is just a matter of time......usually within the shift but sometimes it's after the shift ends and it happens on the next shift. Anyway, just wanted to let you know that you are not a freak.
    AngelfireRN likes this.

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  2. 1
    Oh yes, I have smelled it many times and I get a weird vibe too. This is only when patients are chronically ill though, I have never smelled it on a sudden MI patient. I think it is part of the dying process, the tissue is dying already. Not the same smell as ketoacidosis as another poster pointed out, more like a corpse smell in a living person. It is frightening and disturbing because you feel something is terribly wrong and there is nothing you can do to stop it.
    AngelfireRN likes this.
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    I believe that death has a smell, just as I believe cancer has a smell. I don't experience the smell as the OP does. I smell it as almost a metallic scent that I can only equate with what betadine smells like. Then again I can also smell a UTI a day or two before the person shows symptoms. I just chalk up these "gifts" as being born for the job.
    AngelfireRN likes this.
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    I'm a nursing student, and I've been working as a medication aide and caregiver in assisted living facilities for three years- so I've seen a lot of death. I've observed a very distinct smell common to all of the people for whom I've cared as they were approaching death. However, I've only noticed this with people whose bodies were shutting down slowly. With people who died suddenly- either in their sleep, or from a stroke- I never noticed any kind of odor before they died.

    The smell usually makes me feel a visceral reaction something not unlike nausea, but not entirely the same either. In a way, it serves as a very strong reminder how important it is that I take some extra time with that resident- because it may be the last chance I have to spend time with them.

    It has never made me feel bad or powerless- after all, my job is to make sure my residents are happy and comfortable in their final days, months and years- When they die, I'm happy as long as I know I did every thing I could within the constraints of my position to make their passing as easy as possible for them and their families- and in general, I feel pretty good about the deaths of those for whom I have cared. Which is why I plan on going into hospice when am a nurse. I take as much pride in my role of helping to escort people out of the physical plane as I imagine midwives take in helping to escort them into it.
    casi, nurse441, AngelfireRN, and 1 other like this.
  5. 1
    When I was a nursing student, I did a rotation on a unit that had a census of about 1/3 palliative care, 2/3 general medicine. I kept telling my instructor that the rooms holding dying patients had a different smell to them, but seh thought I was nuts.

    One morning before report after having been away from the unit a week, I walked around the unit and stopped outside every door that had 'that smell' and made note of the room number.

    During report, I marked which patients were terminally ill and compared it to my list-I'd listed one patient as terminal who was not. Instructor was baffled.

    When I did a hospice rotation three years later, as soon as I walked onto the unit I could smell it, but because it was ~40 people dying, it just permeated the unit and after a shift or two, I didn't smell it.

    Years later, my pastor mentioned about a certain smell he noticed when he went to visit dying patients and when he described it to me, it was exactly how I remembered that smell to be. Kind of an odd sweet odour, with a bit of cinnamon or something similar.

    As sbelz79 said, it was always the long-term terminally ill patients I noted the smell with, not the ones who died of heart attacks or strokes.

    I think it's something that some people can smell and others can't. I've had more than a few experienced nurses, including hospice nurses, look at me as if I'd lost a brain cell or two.
    AngelfireRN likes this.
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    I find this very interesting. I wonder if there has been any real research on this. Do you work on a oncology floor? Do you smell death for all dying patients or patients that are dying of something specific. The smell of certain flowers smells like death to me, because they are often used in funeral arrangements. Did your patients have flowers in their rooms? Can you think of any other commonalities of these patients other than they all died after smelled a certain "death" smell? Can you describe the smell?
    AngelfireRN likes this.
  7. 1
    Quote from elshadica
    I find this very interesting. I wonder if there has been any real research on this. Do you work on a oncology floor? Do you smell death for all dying patients or patients that are dying of something specific. The smell of certain flowers smells like death to me, because they are often used in funeral arrangements. Did your patients have flowers in their rooms? Can you think of any other commonalities of these patients other than they all died after smelled a certain "death" smell? Can you describe the smell?

    All I remember is being outside a room and knowing there was a dying patient inside because of the smell that permeated into the hallway. Almost every room, whether it was a medicine room, hospice room or mixed room had flowers of some sort, but flowers or lack thereof did not affect my nose.
    AngelfireRN likes this.
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    No I don't think your a freak...I remember during my clinicals when I was in school I was asked to prepare the body of a patient that had passed. She wasn't my patient but my preceptor wanted me to perform this task with an RN. I remember very clearly the smell...it definitely is not an easy smell to describe but I have never forgotten it. When I worked on a Womens surgical oncology Unit that same smell existed when a patient died. It definitely is again something that doesn't leave you.
    AngelfireRN likes this.
  9. 1
    Yes. Death has a smell. I think it smells differently to everyone, and some don't notice it at all, but it is there. I could always smell it on animals too.

    In the short time I worked at the nursing home, we had three residents die. One had been brought back to the facility to die, so it was no surprise. The second time, another CNA and I were changing one of the ladies, and we both noted that her normal scent had changed. We got the nurse, who seemed a little confused as to why we were upset. The resident died before morning. The third time I smelled it I was at home. Watching television. The smell just seemed to fill the room, and I was checking the pets, the fridge, my family members! Later I learned that one of my favorite residents had passed at that time.

    So yes. Its real. And you're not a freak. Like a previous poster said, use it to your advantage. Or more importantly, to the patient's advantage.
    AngelfireRN likes this.
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    I too have had an odd experience. I worked an internship at a large hospital a couple summers ago in an ICU. When one of our patients died I was asked to help the nurse take the passed-individual to the morgue. When we walked through the doorway of the morgue an odd sickly smell overcame me. It was a mix between vanilla and stale musty books. Needless to say I will never again wear/buy vanilla scented Anything!
    AngelfireRN likes this.


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