One weekend as a hospital on-call chaplain, I received a call from a Cardio nurse asking if I would be available about midnight to attend an extibation procedure. Not having a medical background, I had to ask what type of procedure she was talking about. She indicated that they would be removing a young man from life support. She said that his family would not be attending so she wanted to honor his grandmother’s request for a chaplain to be present as he took his last breath. I agreed to be in the room as a stand-in for the family.
This was a difficult first experience for me to watch as this young man have life support taken away so that he would die. No one trained me for that. What would be expected of me when I stood at this man’s bed? I didn’t know him or his family. How would I know what to do? When it was finally time, it felt right to lay my hand on his arm and say a prayer for his peace and comfort for the journey ahead. When those solemn moments and prayers were finished, I stepped away to allow the nurse and the CNA perform their duties. I watched with awe and wonder as this team began the process of removing life support from their patient. They spoke to him in quiet and comforting tones; addressing him with a formal Mr. each time they removed the tubes that sustained his life. These two professional women explained every action to him that was required to end his life. Once the equipment was removed, they remained by his side ready to address any discomfort issues he might experience as he died. For 8 minutes they cared for him until he was pronounced dead. Following the nurse out of the room, I again said a prayer for his soul. Once at her desk, the nurse called his grandmother to offer her sympathy and reassure her that a chaplain had been present to pray with him during the end-of-life procedure. The grandmother was relieved and grateful to the medical team and the chaplain, me, for taking care of her grandson’s death with such grace.
As I watched the life of this man slip away from his earthly body, it occurred to me that his family’s fear that he would be alone had a chaplain not been in the room was unfounded. God had provided this tortured soul with two angels of mercy to care and comfort him as he took his last breath. The medical duo honored and respected his life with their caring and kindness, ensuring his peaceful death. I was present in the room only to watch God’s handiwork in action for some very holy and sacred 8 minutes.