WHAT WE DO |
March 25, 2010
Name: RN Clara Hart
Posting date: 3/22/10
Stationed in: a civilian military hospital in the U.S.
Milblog: From Our Perspective
I held the hand of a dying warrior who fought death. Flown to us from the battlefield he was gravely wounded, with no chance of survival. His family, at his side every step of the way, elected to fulfill his wishes of being an organ donor. As loved ones gathered at his bedside saying final goodbyes, the OR and organ procurement team readied the operating room and started the process of organ compatibility.
No eye was dry in the ICU as he was wheeled from the room and down the hallway toward his final
surgery. In organ donation at our hospital the family has the option of going into the OR to be with the patient until they take their last breath. His family elected not to do so. After being placed gently on the operating table he was disconnected from the ventilator and life sustaining medications were turned off. The wait had begun.
Just as the “golden hour” in trauma dictates that for maximum recovery the trauma patient should receive care within an hour of injury, there is a “golden hour” in organ donation. Only it should be called "the black hour," as it is the darkest of all hours. Once totally disconnected, the patient has an hour to die before the organs become unusable.
Our fine warrior, so valiant in his career, who fought so hard in life, continued to fight in death. Disconnected, he started to breathe on his own. Sixty minutes never felt so long as we watched his agonal breathing become stronger. When we reached the end of that blackest hour we gazed at each other, once again in tears, hardly able to bear what we knew came next.
This family who had already said goodbye once must now say goodbye again. The hope they had held, that perhaps in one’s death another might live as they received a stronger heart, healthier lungs, undamaged kidneys, was now futile. We carefully removed him from the table and placed him back in bed. The physician went to talk to the family and we rolled him back to the ICU.
For three more days he fought. For three more days his family and friends sat vigil. The nursing staff passed out coffee and gave hugs. We wiped tears and held hands. We listened to stories and laughed uncontrollably at the adventures of his all too short life. And we became tired. The dread at returning to work only to see him still battling was overwhelming. The emotional drain was all consuming and soon everyone was saying out loud what we had kept silent: “I wish he would give up." Even his parents put those thoughts into words.
At a moment when there was no one at his side I quietly walked into his room. Laying my hand along his check I leaned down and softly said to him, “We know how hard you fight, how hard you always fight. But now it’s time to stop. You gave absolutely everything for your country, your family and your friends, and I thank you with all my heart. Please let go.” I gently kissed his forehead and left the room. Three hours later this valiant warrior died.
A family member gazed at me with tears in his eyes and said, “How can you deal with things like this all the time?”
“It’s what we do," I told him. “It’s what we do.”