A ROBOT to comfort the dying patient…no nurse required

So I am really not sure how I feel about this topic. I had the wonderful, life changing opportunity to be a palliative care/hospice nurse for 2 years. I learned a great deal about the death and dying process. I value what I learned from all of the patients and families who allowed me to be a part of their most intimate and final moments…death. I had one very strong belief when I was a hospice nurse, it was that nobody should die alone. I made sure not one of my patients was alone during their final journey. If I couldn’t be there due to issues with other patients, I would demand and assign another staff member to attend the bedside and provide them the support they needed so that they did not die alone? Whether it be a personal support worker, nursing student, kitchen helper, gardener, priest, or medical resident student, I demanded it be done. I told you it was a strong belief.

Was I wrong in doing this? Do some people want to be alone in their final moments? Is a stranger holding their hand better than being alone? Is a talking ROBOT the answer?

So why is it that someone felt a ROBOT needed to be created to comfort a dying patient in their last moments so that they were not alone? I ponder this idea.

Well last night I had a conversation with registered nurse that was doing a private duty assignment in a hospital. She told me while providing companionship for the patient she was hired to care for, the patient in the other bed died alone. This caring nurse was quite bothered by this event, but with her professional restrictions she could not attend the dying patient or be involved with his care. After he died she sat in the room with his dead body wondering how could this happen. So I dug deeper, I felt sickened by hearing of this incident. The private duty nurse told me that this man’s nurse would peek in on him periodically. She told me that the patient was actively dying and it was evident to even the untrained eye. The patient’s nurse was too busy to call the family, and the man passed alone. It was into the wee hours of the morning before the nurse contacted the family and had them attend the bedside of their loved one that had passed. The nurse told them he passed peacefully.

How would she know that? She wasn’t there! Is passing alone equivalent to passing peacefully? I don’t know the answer.

I do know that we all die differently. Some wait for their loved ones to leave the bedside for that split second to take their last breath. Some hang on in a “land of suffering” till they receive permission to go or hear that the ones left behind will be ok. Some pray for death, some are scared, some are at peace. Just as each of us are unique in life, we are unique in death.

I first have to say I am saddened by the fact that the nurse didn’t feel the importance to take a minute to call the family. I am saddened that she was “too busy” to call. I guess it is unfair for me to judge why she didn’t call. Let me look at it another way. Is a nursing shortage, increased patient to nurse ratios the reason patients’ die alone? Are these reasons the driving force for the invention of the “last moment ROBOT”?

Is it me? Are my personal feelings about death causing me to think dying alone is horrible? What would you want? So I sat down (with a cup of coffee) and thought about what I would want. Well I know I don’t want my family to watch me if I was suffering. I don’t want my family distraught watching my body fail. Not all death is peaceful and beautiful, do I want to put my family through “hell” if my death is not peaceful?  Would I even know if I was alone in my final journey, during those final breathes before life on earth ceases? My answer…I don’t know what I would want. What I do know is, I rather be alone than have a ROBOT stroke my arm repeatedly, talking to me in that most irritating computer voice telling me that I was not alone and that they were there to comfort me.

So, I thought I would keep it short. This topic fills many books and I will address death and dying in future posts. Ok the truth is… this topic hurts my heart, and I struggle to think we have to substitute human touch with robotic presence.

Take a look at yourself. How do you feel as a medical professional or as a family member or if you were the patient? Do you want to die alone? Do you want a ROBOT to tell you its ok? Do you want that warm hand?

Hard topic to think about, but I would love your feedback. Time to heat up my coffee for the 3rd time. Keep loving what you do and never sacrifice the human needs of those we care for.



The Week Staff. (n.d.). The ‘Last Moment Robot’ that comforts patients dying alone. Retrieved from http://theweek.com/articles/474781/last-moment-robot-that-comforts-patients-dying-alone

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