I was 18 when I saw someone receive CPR for the first time, and immediately I noticed how incredibly violent a thing it was to do to a human being. The sound of bones breaking from the depth of compressions. The jolt of the body from the electricity of defibrillation. The blood from the mouth after the endotracheal tube is shoved down the throat. Even if they survive this, I thought, I’m not sure the pain they feel upon waking would be worth it. And as if he was reading my thoughts, the victim I was observing from the sidelines refused to be resuscitated. After the doctor called time of death, everyone left the room except the charge nurse and me.
“Your job now,” he told me, “is to prepare the body for the family to see it.”
I gawked at him. Blood covered the man and the bed, trash covered the floor, and tubes were protruding everywhere with no apparent source. Methodically, the charge nurse wiped the man clean, gently raising and lowering his head to clean the pillow. He expertly located the entrances of tubes and set them free while I removed all traces of trash from the floor. Together we rolled the man from side to side, replacing his dirty, blood-stained sheet with a clean one. As the nurse closed the man’s eyes, he told me to fetch two blankets from the warmer, and upon returning, he looked me directly in the eyes and said, “This is the most important part of prepping the body.” He draped the warm blankets from the man’s shoulders to his feet to keep his family members from feeling the cold of his body. He placed the lifeless left arm on top and moved a chair to the left side of the bed. After bringing in the family, I watched as they automatically took the seat prepared for them, cradling the dead hand in theirs.
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