Markkula Center of Applied Ethics

A Blanket of Peace

By Maliheh Movassat

A student in the Ethics Center's Pre-Professional Program for Undergraduates at O'Connor Hospital reflects on her first experience with death.

In the 10 weeks I was at O'Connor Hospital, I witnessed only one death. Although it was sad and very hard for the family, what I witnessed was the most peaceful thing I had ever seen.

The patient was already unconscious but still breathing. He was in a painful position-on a respirator with his chest moving up and down harshly. He had severe cancer that had started in his bladder and spread throughout his body. The doctors had treated him with chemotherapy and surgery, but nothing could be done for him anymore.

The morning I was in his room, he was in a coma. His family had been notified twice: once at 8 a.m. that he might die by 10 a.m. and then a second time that it looked like they had better come to the hospital quicker because he was having difficulty hanging on.

He had already "coded" once, and the nurses had revived him. Now it was just a matter of time, and everyone hoped the family would make it before he was gone.

Although he was in a coma, the nurses talked to him, encouraging him to hold on until his family could get there. I even found myself talking to him, saying, "Hold on. They're almost here." As soon as his family entered the room, he coded and passed away. I left the room, only returning when his family left.

The nurses continued to speak to him with great respect as they drew the respirator from his chest. I cried for him, even though I didn't know him. But it was not terrible or horrible, as death is so often pictured. In fact, it was as if a blanket of peace had been placed over him and the entire room.