EMS: Pronounced Dead – But Not Quite!

A few years ago, I was hired by an attorney outside Chicago to help him defend a fire department being sued after its personnel had pronounced a man dead as a result of a car accident, but some 45 minutes later, it was discovered the “dead” man was...


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It is imperative as EMTs and paramedics that whenever we are called to a death, or decide to terminate resuscitation efforts, we document everything well, including the absence of pulses, no breathing and no electrical activity in the heart with an EKG tracing. Other important documentation points include dilated and non-reactive pupils. If it appears someone has been dead for a while, include rigor mortis, dependent lividity, decomposition and incineration and document the last time the patient was seen.

Only through careful assessment of the patient and good documentation can you prevent the embarrassment of declaring someone dead who later proved to be alive. And if you did everything you were supposed to do if they were dead and they still came back to life – God only knows! n