Not really a ghost story, but kinda close. I work in organ procurement. If you’re an organ donor, I’m the one in the OR who aids the surgeons in surgically recovering your organs for transplant.
There are two types of organ donors. The first is those who are brain dead. They have no reflexes and there is no brain activity. They are being kept physically “alive” by a ventilator. The second type is called a DCD donor, which stands for “Donation after Cardiac Death.” Those types of donors have reflexes still present, and their families have elected to withdraw life sustaining treatment and allow their loved one to pass on.
Whenever I have a DCD donor, I talk to them as I prep them, because I know there’s a good chance that they can hear me. I hold their hand while I’m clipping their chest hair or painting chloroprep across their torso because I know there’s a good chance that they can feel it. These patients cannot be sedated for the withdrawal process because that would essentially be an assisted suicide. We can provide comfort meds, but absolutely no sedation. We withdraw care (i.e. extubate the patient from the ventilator) and they have 90 minutes to pass away on their own. If they don’t pass within 90 minutes, we cannot take their organs.
DCD donors give me the spooks. I’ve had DCD patients on my table (who have been evaluated to have a GCS of 3) knee me in the diaphragm/stomach/chest and groaned as I’ve prepped them with chloroprep right after shaving their torsos to prepare for OR. That’s how I learned that chloroprep was a stingy substance. I had one DCD patient grasp my hand as if it were his lifeline as he frantically gazed around the room, tears streaming down his face, but he couldn’t speak. He actually ended up passing away after extubation. I wasn’t in the room during/after extubation because I work on the surgical side of things and it’s a conflict of interest, but I think about him all the time. I’ll never know what actually happened in that OR.
There was one DCD patient who passed away within the 90 minute timeframe, we waited the mandatory 5 minute no-touch time (which means incision cannot happen until 5 minutes after cardiac death is declared - this just ensures that the donor is actually deceased before we recover). Once the chest was cracked, the patient experienced a spontaneous regain of rhythm of the heart. In essence, he died and came back to life?? We shut the whole case down. Everyone was crying, scrambling to find pain meds for this poor guy STAT, etc. Very traumatizing.
Organ Procurement Organizations are very thorough with their ethics in handling potential organ donors. Patient and family care is our first priority. If you’re an organ donor, please don’t let these freak occurrences scare you. I just wanted to share some of the crazy, rare encounters I’ve had in this field!