My brother Robert died at the age of fifty-one in June 2018 at the Oklahoma Heart Hospital during an attempt to replace an old, failing, plastic heart valve he’d had put in when he was thirteen. I would have referred to it as an open-heart surgery, but really, they never even got into his chest in the first place, thanks (or no thanks) to his aorta having calcified to his sternum.

The hospital was kind enough to give my family time with him (post-death) until I arrived from Colorado some four-or-more hours later so that I could see him briefly before he was picked up as a donor for bone and tissue recovery.

He had been moved from the room in the Cath-Lab where he died down to a room on the first floor. Nurses on that unit had been coming in periodically to bring coffee and check on my family. Not terribly long after I’d arrived, there was a shift change. One nurse, just starting her rounds, came into the room. She filled her hands with foamy hand sanitizer, walked over to the computer uttering pleasantries about “good evening” and such, continuing, “I’m so-and-so, I’m just here to get some vitals.”


“Vitals on a dead guy?” I asked.

Her gaze darted to the bed where my brother laid, a look of horror sweeping over her face. Clearly, she’d somehow missed the memo. Poor thing. She looked absolutely mortified and was apologizing profusely. We held back our giggles as best we could so as not to make her feel bad.  She sweetly but sheepishly offered condolences and slumped out of the room.

When the door finally closed, I proclaimed, “We should have let her try!”

Everyone busted out laughing.

“Code blue!” I quipped.

My mom was laughing so hard that she was spilling her coffee on the floor with each ha-ha.

It was absolutely hilarious, and we could not contain the laughs, nor compose ourselves.

It felt good to laugh.

There already was, and was to be, so much pain in losing him.

We weren’t laughing at anyone’s expense.

Not Robert’s, not the nurse’s, and certainly not that of any other code blue* families.

Anyone who has laughed at the bedside, a funeral, etc. knows that belly laughs are a welcomed gift in those moments.

Robert woulda gotten a kick outta this story, and he surely would have been laughing with us!


  *code blue is the code called for cardiac/respiratory arrest