Does death have a smell?

  1. 6 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 around a week later, the patient would be dead.

    It continues to this day. I have smelled Lord knows how many smells, but this one almost defies description. The only way I can compare it to anything is to think of really concentrated Swish and Swallow, that nystatin stuff. I love the way it smells, but this other smell is like S&S overkill.

    I finally started piecing it together when I noticed a pattern with the smell and the demise. My instructors never could understand why I would walk in a room to help, and get a weird look on my face. My co-workers later could not understand it, they just knew something was up by the look on my face. It was especially sad when the patient was thought to be improving.

    It happened with my FIL. DH knew that SOMETHING happened to me when a person was about to pass, and I had already told him that I was not going to tell him if I sensed anything. The last time I saw FIL was the only time I did not hug him. I would have bawled, and given it away. I regret not hugging him, but not like I would regret giving my MIL and DH 4 days of a deathwatch. Afterward, as we were headed to the funeral home, DH looked at me, all teary, and said "You knew, didn't you? You've been weird since we saw him the last time."

    Smelled it with my Grandmother, and squalled for 3 days solid, before there was really anything to squall about.

    And I smell it still, with patients I see in hospital. I hate this. It's as bad as getting that gut feeling to pull the code cart outside the lady's room. There is no more helpless feeling than knowing what is going to happen, and knowing just as well that you're powerless to stop it.

    Anyone else get this, or get an inkling as to the demise of a patient? I've heard about bad patients asking to have a BM, and nurses knowing that that was it, we've all heard about the "last turn", but does anyone else smell anything beforehand?

    Or am I just a freak?
  2. Visit  AngelfireRN profile page

    About AngelfireRN

    AngelfireRN has '8' year(s) of experience and specializes in 'med-surg, psych, ER, school nurse-CRNP'. From 'United States'; Joined Jul '07; Posts: 1,450; Likes: 4,049.

    105 Comments so far...

  3. Visit  RNandRRT profile page
    3
    there's anecdotal evidence that animals react differently around humans that end up dying. Some speculation is that they can smell something.
    skittlebear, StNeotser, and AngelfireRN like this.
  4. Visit  rotteluvr31 profile page
    4
    No Angelfire, you're not a freak.

    Many of us on the unit I work acknowledge there is a smell to death. I won't say that I can smell it all the time, or that I would bet money on it, but certainly there is a pervasive odor. When I worked in Hospice, the RN's there would also comment on the smell of death.

    Perhaps your senses are just more fine tuned.
    Erindel RN, meintheUSA, skittlebear, and 1 other like this.
  5. Visit  webmansx profile page
    4
    Quote from AngelfireRN
    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 around a week later, the patient would be dead.

    It continues to this day. I have smelled Lord knows how many smells, but this one almost defies description. The only way I can compare it to anything is to think of really concentrated Swish and Swallow, that nystatin stuff. I love the way it smells, but this other smell is like S&S overkill.

    I finally started piecing it together when I noticed a pattern with the smell and the demise. My instructors never could understand why I would walk in a room to help, and get a weird look on my face. My co-workers later could not understand it, they just knew something was up by the look on my face. It was especially sad when the patient was thought to be improving.

    It happened with my FIL. DH knew that SOMETHING happened to me when a person was about to pass, and I had already told him that I was not going to tell him if I sensed anything. The last time I saw FIL was the only time I did not hug him. I would have bawled, and given it away. I regret not hugging him, but not like I would regret giving my MIL and DH 4 days of a deathwatch. Afterward, as we were headed to the funeral home, DH looked at me, all teary, and said "You knew, didn't you? You've been weird since we saw him the last time."

    Smelled it with my Grandmother, and squalled for 3 days solid, before there was really anything to squall about.

    And I smell it still, with patients I see in hospital. I hate this. It's as bad as getting that gut feeling to pull the code cart outside the lady's room. There is no more helpless feeling than knowing what is going to happen, and knowing just as well that you're powerless to stop it.

    Anyone else get this, or get an inkling as to the demise of a patient? I've heard about bad patients asking to have a BM, and nurses knowing that that was it, we've all heard about the "last turn", but does anyone else smell anything beforehand?

    Or am I just a freak?
    I don't think you are a freak..just someone with a very specila "gift"...learn how to use it in a positive way. As a nurse, I think in some way you will find some great use for it....
    Erindel RN, Code_VSA, skittlebear, and 1 other like this.
  6. Visit  delta1961 profile page
    2
    I worked in ICU for three years- I totally agree with you and your description of the smell was also accurate- I would just add a little musky to your description.
    skittlebear and AngelfireRN like this.
  7. Visit  mesa1979 profile page
    1
    Wow, that is really something! omg
    AngelfireRN likes this.
  8. Visit  annaedRN profile page
    1
    Yes- I have smelled that same sickly-sweet smell many a time. And you're right - not everyone notices it. It has always seemed so distinct to me though. It is always sad when you smell it when you are not expecting it, especially if your patient seems to be fine and not have a clue. Have never had a family member die after me noticing it - I feel for you- that must have been a difficult position to be in
    AngelfireRN likes this.
  9. Visit  prowlingMA profile page
    1
    When I worked in Nursing Homes and even now as a CMA I could smell that smell and just know.
    It is a sweet syruppy smell.
    I have actually had two " prediction of death" dreams and the pt died with in days.
    AngelfireRN likes this.
  10. Visit  rotteluvr31 profile page
    1
    prediction of death dreams give me the willies. Only had one, maybe two. Definitely one months before my FIL died. It was even before we got the phone call saying he had prostrate CA. I don't recall the dream, just know I woke my husband and said we have to take a week off and make the two day drive to Florida. Now. And we did, it was the last time we saw him alive. For me it was much different then the death smell.
    AngelfireRN likes this.
  11. Visit  Whispera profile page
    13
    I wonder if part of the smell you're talking about is related to dying patients having ketoacidosis. That's a sweet smell...
    Erindel RN, GrnTea, sweetf, and 10 others like this.
  12. Visit  Coriander profile page
    2
    I think you have a gift. I'm able to "know" before it happens, either by smell or by sensing a change in the energy. It's startling at first, but I've learned to use it to help make their last hours/minutes/days as comfortable as possible. Hopefully I can carry that into the nursing field as I go.

    Thank you for sharing this. It's a powerful sensation.
    Erindel RN and AngelfireRN like this.
  13. Visit  Cat_LPN profile page
    2
    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...
    It's almost like that, but has a 'sweatier' effect to it as well. I know exactly what the OP is talking about, smelled it for a third time with my latest dying patient. The second I walked into the room I knew her time was close because that old, now familiar smell was in my nostrils.

    I really don't know what it is, possibly a mix of ketoacidosis, sweat from fevers, maybe the smell of bacteria taking over the body before the actual death of body... who knows. It is very interesting though... kinda scary.
    Erindel RN and AngelfireRN like this.
  14. Visit  nebrgirl profile page
    1
    My sister passed away 3 years ago in a hospice facility...I thought the smell then was particular to some cleaning product they were using...now that I work in a hopital I've noticed it again a couple of times....but I didn't connect the dots that is what I was smelling until now....thanks I think.

    Nebrgirl
    AngelfireRN likes this.

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