Moments to Remember

By Michael Morse

It’s late, the hour, and the amount of time left for the man whose dying breaths fill the room. The dreadful sound of a person’s final moments prompted one of the family to call 911, even though they had been coached and had been preparing for this moment for months. Their dad, husband, brother, friend, and grandpa lay dying in the living room of the house he built and raised his family in. Most were there now, the phone calls going out a few hours ago, that chain of communication families dealing with terminal illness know all too well:

“It’s soon.”

The gathering of loved ones parts as we arrive, making way for our bag full of meds, the defibrillator, the stair chair, prepared to do what we must.

“Does he have any final wishes?” I ask, hoping somebody understands and comes up with the Do Not Resuscitate (DNR). Without a valid DNR order, I am bound by law to do anything and everything to prolong the life of the man who has run out of time.  My partner puts an oxygen mask over the man’s face; a few people protest, most simply watch.

“The Hospice people have the paperwork.”

His respirations are slowing now, his 80-pound frame shaking, thankfully unconscious as the morphine pump grinds along.

I hear the sirens of the engine company in the distance, more strangers about to invade this intimate gathering–this final farewell. It is a moment that will stay with the survivors forever and give them comfort in the difficult days ahead, remembering that their loved one died with dignity in the home he built, surrounded by family.

Or not.

“I need a DNR order signed by him or a doctor,” I say to the person who appears to be in charge. He nods, understanding my request and the position I am in.

Two respirations a minute now. The guy is fumbling for the paperwork as his dad is about to leave this earth forever. The engine company arrives on scene, chaos about to enter and ruin the hoped for serenity of a man’s final moments with his family.

“It’s okay,” I tell the man, and step outside, closing the door behind me.


Michael Morse is a former captain with the Providence (RI) Fire Department (PFD), an author, and a popular columnist. He served on PFD’s Engine Co. 2., Engine Co. 9, and Ladder Co. 4 for 10 years prior to becoming an EMT-C on Rescue Co 1 and Captain of Rescue Co. 5.

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