1. Engs, Samuel Franklin BA, BSN, RN

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INTO EVERY NURSING career a little "on call" must fall. Quite a few years ago, it was my weekend to be the on-call nurse for our local hospice provider. At about 0100 on Sunday morning my phone rang. It was from the on-call desk referring me to Mrs. K, 96, who was having trouble breathing. I got out of bed, got dressed, and jumped in my car.

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All lit up

As I turned down Mrs. K's street, I had no problem identifying her home. It was the only one on the block with all the lights on. I also saw seven or eight cars in the driveway and on the front lawn. Those were strong indicators that I'd found the right house. I squeezed my car into the traffic jam on the lawn, collected my bag, and headed for the front door.


Several family members on the front porch welcomed me. They led me through the open front door and into the living room, where I found Mrs. K lying in a hospital bed with her eyes closed. She was receiving supplemental oxygen as prescribed. Her eldest son told me that she'd been unresponsive for the past 3 days.


Besides the four people on the front porch, eight or nine people were at Mrs. K's bedside. In my years as a nurse I've observed that people who spend their lives being loving to their family usually are surrounded by a large group of loved ones in their final hours. I can honestly say that based upon the crowd at her bedside, Mrs. K belonged to this group.


Final words

Mrs. K's vital signs indicated that she was actively dying: heart rate rapid, respirations labored. Her BP was no more than a guess. I was about to ask where her medications were when suddenly she opened her eyes and said, "Oh ... my mother is here, and she is so beautiful!" She then took one last breath and died as suddenly as she had awakened.


A moment of absolute silence fell around her bed. Not a sound, not a movement. Then the room exploded with an outpouring of cries and lamentations at an intensity that I'd never heard before. Mrs. K's loved ones were holding on to each other, comforting each other. Some were even sitting on the floor weeping.


Mrs. K's eldest son quietly told me that Mrs. K's mother had died at childbirth. The impact of her son's statement caused me to instantly join with the family in shedding my tears.


The implications of Mrs. K's last words still cause me to pause and reflect on what we really know about death and the next plane of existence. I continue to suspect that we actually know nothing.