How to Perform Post-Mortem Care

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Post-mortem care is perhaps the most difficult aspect of a health care worker's job. While some choose health care as a means of saving lives, they are faced with the reality of death as well. Caring for a patient once he has passed is just as essential as caring for him while he is alive; it is just as important to have respect for him and provide him with the same dignity. There is a specific process that should be followed when providing post-mortem care, and if followed correctly, the outcome will benefit both the deceased and his loved ones.

Things You'll Need

  • Towels Pillows Shroud bag Identification tags Cart from the morgue

How to Perform Post-Mortem Care

  • Place patient in supine position. Once the patient's death has been confirmed, place the patient in an upright position, straightening her limbs by her sides and lowering her eyelids. If her eyelids will not remain closed on their own initially, you can place wet gauze pads over the closed eyes until they remain closed on their own. This is part of preparing the body for the family to view it before it is taken to the morgue and both procedures make the patient seem at peace.

  • Bathe the patient. It is normal for any excess secretions in the body, such as those in the bowel and bladder, to exit the body once death has occurred. Out of respect for the patient and his family, the deceased should be bathed completely with just as much care as you'd give if he were still alive. Once the bath is complete, dress the patient in a fresh gown, comb his hair and cover him with fresh linen up to his chin, leaving his arms exposed at his sides.

  • Raise the head of the bed. A condition called liver mortis will begin to set in approximately 20 minutes after the patient has passed. Once the circulation in the body has stopped, gravity takes over, pulling the blood downward. If the head is not elevated, the blood will begin to pool around the sides of the face, the earlobes and the neck, leaving a deep, reddish-purple discoloration in these areas. To prevent this, raise the head of the bed to a 30-degree angle and place one or two pillows under the patient's head.

  • Place a washcloth under the patient's chin. Rigor mortis, a stiffening of the muscles, can begin as soon as ten minutes after death and can take up to six hours to occur. Placing a rolled up washcloth under the deceased's chin will help the jaw stay closed until rigor mortis takes place.

  • Place deceased in the shroud bag. Once the family has had time to spend with the patient, it is time to place her into the shroud bag. Before doing so, fill out the tags that come in the shroud kit so that the patient can be properly identified. One tag will be attached to a big toe. The other tag will be placed on the outer zipper of the bag, once the deceased has been placed inside. If she had dentures, they need to be placed in a cup with her name clearly labeled on the lid and tucked inside the bag with her. Lift the patient, taking special care for her head and limbs and transfer her onto the cart from the morgue. The head of the cart should be elevated in a continuing effort to prevent liver mortis.

Tips & Warnings

  • Before the family members leave the facility, they should be given a bag with the patient's clothing and any valuable items he may have had. Also, many shroud kits today still contain chin straps and ties for the feet and arms. These straps and ties are generally not recommended for use as they break, leave marks on the skin and could result in potential leakage of bodily fluid.

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