What's your "Dead Patient" story?

Nurses General Nursing


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365 Posts

I was told where I currently work, they had a resident that was pronounced dead by all our standards of training. CNA's were preparing her body and she lets out this bit sigh, opens her eyes and starts breathing again. After totally freaking out, the nurse confirmed, she was indeed still alive. Monitored her closely for some time, same thing, all signs show she is dead, all preps made, sent to the funeral home, only this time she wakes up at the funeral home, in the body bag. Of course they got this frantic phone call and she was returned to the facility. I guess the next day, it happened again, but this time they let her body lay for a full eight hours before acting on the assumption that she was dead. Glad I wasn't there for that one!!!! Even the doctors could not explain what happened. ( I would assume there were a lot of wet bloomers when dealing with this one!!!)

I've got one. Sheesh, it was so traumatic at the time. She came to my floor from the pods to die. She was 93 years old and you could tell by looking at her that she was one of the really coolest people in the whole world. She lived totally independently, but was injured badly in an accident.

She'd been in pod since she got there, and I got her the next morning. Transporting nurse damnear killed her right then and there, by putting the water for the humidified O2 on the bed with her and letting the tubing get filled with water, and then trying to lift the end with the bottle when we got her set up in my room, almost sending ALL that water straight down her tube if I hadn't stopped her.

I got her settled in and let the family in - they told me her story and it was obvious that she was going very soon. I was in there as much as I could, making sure that she appeared comfortable, and introducing the new chaplain (different chaplain for different floors) etc.

Well, when she died --- stupid me, I forgot to check the TIME she was admitted downstairs at the pods. She was DNR and no autopsy. The family had been there and she'd been all taped and tubed and so when I got her ready, I extubated her and took out the IVs and the foley, etc., combed her hair.... The family appreciated it, but she actually died less than 24 hours after admission, so she was automatically a coroners case.

In report, they'd said she'd been in the pods since yesterday afternoon, and I got her in the morning and she died near the end of my shift, but apparently "afternoon" meant like 1900 pm to the nurse giving me report, and I was stupid enough to just ASSUME it was okay.

So I called the resident again and again... They actually come and pronounce them in person and write a note in that hospital, so the smart-a$$ comes up and pronounces her and jokes "why didn't you call me sooner, when I could have done something?" Which was totally a joke - he wasn't the least bit serious, HE thought it was funny because of it having taken so long for him to get there. Duhhhhh But I was all stressed about her not having been pronounced, and in the MEANTIME finding out that I'd done all this to a coroner's case!

Then the attending gets there and TAKES the whole bloody chart somewhere off the floor. So by the time The Suits are asking me about why I took all this stuff out of a coroner's case cadaver, the chart turns up missing!!! It really looked like I'd some something bad and knew it and was trying to cover up.

That was the worst of my "dead patient" stories. Although I did follow a night nurse who told me that she went to check on a patient that the tech had JUST taken vitals and reported everything OK, and the nurse walked in on a quite-dead patient. Much longer than 15" dead patient but that's how long ago these "vitals" were charted!!!



OMG, Dennie....what a mess!!!

And BTW: This thread is listed twice! Why???


581 Posts

Well, mine is humorous. When I was in nursing school, my clinicals were at a catholic hospital. I think it was like the first few weeks of school, my patient expired and of course post-mortum care was required. Back then that meant a complete bath and other not so pleasant tasks.

One of the other students was assigned to help me with this task. Having worked as a nurses aide in a nursing home, I had previous exposure to this type of work, but my friend ....well, lets just say she was a tad nervous.

As we turned the woman on her side, the air escaped from her lungs and my friend screamed and fled the room leaving me holding desparately to a large dead woman to keep her from falling onto the floor!!!

Needless to say, the instructor led her right back into the room and rescued me! I was laughing so hard I got into a little trouble, but the instructor had a twinkle in those blue German eyes!

Brian, ASN, RN

5 Articles; 3,695 Posts

Specializes in CCU, Geriatrics, Critical Care, Tele.

Admin Note: FYI, there were accidentally two exact threads with this discussion, I merged the two threads and moved the thread to the General Nursing Discussion Forum.

Specializes in Oncology/Haemetology/HIV.

I had one guy that had a heartbeat for 1 1/2 hours after breathing ceased - no pacer either. It was a tad strange.

My other scary one - is a pt on my sister unit had been pronounced by MD for about a half an hour - her call light went off - we thought that the morgue was needing help with moving - then heard code called - pt was sitting up and fighting her way out of the bag.

She died a few hours later - I worried that the shock of being bagged may have contributed, even though I was not her nurse.


147 Posts

This is sort of tacky but it really happened.

A cna and I were on a unit putting an expired pt into a body bag, when the cnas elbow hit the call light on accident and the unit secretary said "May I help you"? The CNA said "Yes, come help me out of this bag, I cant breath"!


735 Posts

Here, if you are an RN you can pronounce.

We just call the DR. to let him/her know.



693 Posts

This one still gives me chills.

In the mid 80's, I was working at a large county teaching hospital. Codes were frequent and very prolonged - sometimes 45 minutes to an hour- because the interns always wanted a turn at everything! Sometimes we would even have to restock meds and supplies on the crash cart in the middle of the code.

Anyway, one evening we coded this 60ish yo gentleman for a very long time, and would get a rythmn, then none, then one again -- just enough to keep encouraging the efforts. Finally, a resident called it, and within ten seconds everyone was gone except another RN and myself, left to clean up the mess in the room and prepare the body for the morgue. As we went to turn the body, the man gasped and opened his eyes. A resp therapist just happend to walk in at that moment and also saw it. The other RN and I each instinctively felt for a pulse and both detected a steady but weak pulse. The RT asked if he needed a treatment (She had not been there earlier and was not aware that the man had just been pronounced.) We asked her to go get the docs - we could still hear them in the hallway. Two of them retuned to the room - 1st year interns, mind you - and said "Oh that happens sometimes. He's already been pronounced. We're not going to do anything now." We asked that they bring the resident back to the room. In the meantime, we placed the man on O2, and he was breathing shallow and irreg, but on his own. The resident returned and repeated what the intern had said, "He's already been pronounced. He's dead. We're not going to do anything else." The other RN, the RT, and I just looked at each other in disbelief. Then the gentleman opened his eyes again, looked me straight in the eye, and a tear rolled down his cheek. We each held one of his hands, and talked to him for another few minutes until he passed. I felt so helpless...

We reported the incident. Our supervisor later told us that we were "very brave" to report it, but that we " needed to be careful about writing up incidents like that". I found another job not too long after then.

I think I need to go somewhere and cry now....

Trauma Columnist

traumaRUs, MSN, APRN

97 Articles; 21,242 Posts

Specializes in Nephrology, Cardiology, ER, ICU.

Well - I work in the ER. We got a call that the ambulance was bringing in an elderly lady who was the unrestrained driver of a car that was t-boned on the drivers side. They reported deteriorating, but present vital signs and also stated she was in a paced rhythm. So, when she arrived, we began to strip her clothes off, we cut her pants and began to tear them away from her body, but her legs came off in her pants!! She was in a paced rhythm but was deader than dead!! BTW - the EMT student helping me passed out cold.


126 Posts

Jemb - that is the saddest story that I have every heard! That poor man! I cannot even imagine what would have went through his mind at that time.

Mattigan, RN

175 Posts

JEMB-:eek: :crying2: :crying2: :crying2: :bluecry1:

That is just horrible and horribly sad.

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