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Monday, October 28, 2013

How do people die?

Your question:  Have you ever watched people die. What is it like?

My answer:   I have seen death, and I know how people die.  I have seen many different types of death.

1.  Peaceful:  The patient who falls to sleep and just stops breathing.  I witnessed this during a breathing treatment once. Unfortunately, people who work in the medical field tend to get a skewered view of death because they rarely see this type of death.  The good news is, this type of death is the most common.  Most often, people simply die peacefully in their sleep, or so one would hope.

2.  Long agonizing:  Here you have a patient who is dyspneic and suffocates to death. This is what we see in the hospital setting, and it's kind of a sad ending.  In the hospital setting we watch as people end their lives gasping for air.  They become dyspneic, and, perhaps due to hypoxia, the end eventually comes. Yet it comes with a struggle for air.

3.  Sudden death:  The most common cause of sudden death is cardiac arrest.  A less common way is a ruptured aneurysm in either the head or aorta.  Prior to the 1930s the most common cause of sudden death was drowning or some other such accident.  Back in the 19th century cardiac arrest was rare, mainly because people didn't live long enough to get heart failure.  So while the cause of sudden death may have changed over the years, the effect is the same.  It was actually attempts to save drowning victims that gave rise to efforts at artificial resuscitation.  We generally get these victims in the hospital, and by the time we see them they are being worked on by emergency response teams, and it gets pretty graphic at times.  Most of these victims die, although sometimes we bring a person back to life.  However, when we do succeed, rarely does the person just walk out of the hospital and live a normal life.

I saw a person die peacefully in his sleep when I was slow one night in the critical care.  I had a nice conversation with this man who was a DNR.  He was a police officer during his life, and he was telling me neat stories.  Then I was visiting with the monitor tech when I saw his heart go into v-tac.  I went into his room and he had a pleasant looking (peaceful) on his face.  He was sound asleep.  This was good therapy for me, especially after many cases of observing the other two types of death.


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