When a Person Becomes Unresponsive

Eventually there always comes a time when the terminally ill person becomes unresponsive. I’m reminded of one man who had been awake when I came into his room at the start of my shift. He was sleeping throughout most of each day but would open his eyes upon hearing a voice or by the touch of a hand. He was very weak and although he would open his eyes and acknowledge my presence, he was not talking and was communicating by simple nods of his head for yes or no. He had liked a certain CD so I pushed play on the DVD player as I left the room after giving him his morning medications. Many believe that as a person slips deeper into this stage that they are preparing to leave this world for the next. Reconciling themselves to their life lived and until that was done, whatever that means to each person, they would not be able to let go. When I returned to the room later that morning he had become unresponsive. He did not open his eyes when I spoke his name or when I touched his shoulder. He did not react while I repositioned him in the bed. He appeared very peaceful, his breathing shallow, but regular. For anyone coming into the room he would appear to be sleeping. Because hearing is thought to be the last sense to go, I put another of his CDs on to play.  A hospice volunteer had appeared in the doorway at that moment to visit.  When she called out his name with no response she looked at me and our nods acknowledged our understanding that he was further slipping away. The volunteer sunk into the chair at bedside to keep vigil as I went out to telephone his sister.

Interesting information on this phase of the dying process….and more about hearing as the last sense while unresponsive.

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