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Postmortem Care

Maya didn’t enjoy working in the hospice unit because losing patients was difficult for her, but she knew the work was important work, and she was good at it. Other nursing assistants didn’t care for working with the patients after their deaths, but Maya felt giving individuals respect and dignity after death was one of her most essential duties.

After Dr. Miller pronounced Mr. Emerson dead, Maya went to work preparing the body for his family to visit and for the mortuary to remove. Because body fluids can still cause infection after death, she followed standard precautions and put on gloves. Then she gathered her supplies and began to provide postmortem care to the body.

First, she closed the eyes and mouth, and then she proceeded to clean the soiled areas on Mr. Emerson’s body using a soft cloth and plain water. Often at the time of death, individuals evacuate their bowels causing soiled linens and skin and a strong, unpleasant odor. When Mr. Emerson’s body was clean, Maya placed a tag around his ankle for identification and dressed the body in a clean gown. Maya next changed the linens on Mr. Emerson’s bed. As she worked, she carefully moved Mr. Emerson’s body much as if he was an unconscious person. Even though he couldn’t hear anymore, she explained what she was doing. Once Maya finished remaking the bed, she repositioned the body in bed lying flat with the head and shoulders resting on a pillow. Then she draped a clean sheet over the body, being careful not to cover the face.

Finally, Maya turned the lights down in the room and left so that the family could have some private time with Mr. Emerson’s body. After the family leaves, she will complete the postmortem care by placing the body in a shroud, placing another ID tag on the shroud, and then documenting the care in her notes.

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© 2015 by Southwest Adult Basic Education

Project made financially possible through grants from:

Southwest Initiative Foundation, Marshall Community Foundation, Southwest Regional Transition Partners, Southwest Adult Basic Education, Marshall Healthcare Partners