Though emotionally taxing a task, performing last offices on a patient is a very crucial part of nursing. Not only do I view it as a sacred task, it is the last act of kindness a nurse can ever do for their patient!
It could be that you have nursed the patient for a long time and have watched them deteriorate until they breathed their last. Or they may have died suddenly. It doesn’t matter how the patient dies but as a nurse there is a highly likelihood that at some point during your career you will be faced with a situation where you will have to perform last offices on a patient. This task may not be for everyone as it can be emotionally taxing. However, should you find yourself with a dead body on your ward or unit the following are some tips on how to perform last offices on your patient:
1) First confirm with the doctors that they are indeed dead. (well, strange things do happen!)
2) Remove all the attached monitoring equipment.
3) If they have loved ones close by that they have left behind ask if they would like to spend some time with them before you start working on the body. They can still spent some more time later but it shows that you respect their feelings at this difficult time.
4) They say that the sense of hearing is the last to go, therefore, when a patient dies, be mindful of what you say around them, especially soon after their passing. There’s a lot to be said for respecting the dead!
5) As ridiculous as it sounds, you can talk to your patient during this act of love and kindness. You’re not crazy and it doesn’t matter whether they can still hear you or not. You do it because you’re a respectful and caring nurse!
6) If you’re not comfortable in performing this task or if you’re not sure how it is performed it is advisable to seek the help of a colleague. The same rule of not going beyond your level of expertise still applies even on a dead body!
7) Clean the body, sealing orifices such as the nose, anus and so on with cotton wool or whatever is appropriate to use.
8) When it has all been cleaned, the body should be placed in a body bag and labelled according to your hospital’s guidelines before it is taken away to the mortuary.
9) Treat the dead body as you’d like to be treated- with respect! Remember this is someone’s mother, father, uncle or God forbid child.