Tag Archives: death

An Unexpected Death

Death is part of life in hospital. Indeed, half of all deaths in England occur in these hives of activity, where we help many to evade the end for a little longer  [1]. Death is such a frequent part of our work in fact, that it can become routine. Last week a man died before we got to see him on our morning ward round. He died some time between having his breakfast and the 9am observations round. He was old, had been unwell for a long time, and his death was expected, although no-one predicted it would be that morning. It caused hardly a ripple. Nurses, doctors and physiotherapists exchanged surprised glances, then shrugged and immediately focused their attention on their next tasks. His death became an admin task, as the junior doctors planned when they would find the time to complete his death certificate, discharge summary, and paperwork for our departmental morbidity and mortality meeting.

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In the company of death

The Huffington Post have published an article I wrote on art and death. The edited version can be seen here. The original blog follows.

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Death Cafe Euston

Join me for an evening of discussion on death, dying, life and living at 1 Lancing Street next to Euston station. There will be tea. There will be cake. There will be time and space to talk about death, dying, grief, funerals, and the fragility of life.

Death Cafes provide an opportunity ‘to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives‘. They are group directed discussions with no agenda, objectives or themes. They are discussion groups rather than grief support or counselling sessions. They are generally life-affirming events, but sensitive discussions are of course possible so please bear this in mind. For more information please see www.deathcafe.com.

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An ever deferred death

“…just as we know our walking to be only a constantly prevented falling, so is the life of our body only a constantly prevented dying, an ever deferred death.”  Schopenhauer

I first read these words two years after I had qualified as a doctor. On reading them I felt a jolt: a reawakening of a feeling that I had buried. A feeling that I ran and hid from as I spent my days, and many nights, beside people on the brink of death. Schopenhauer’s words forced me to confront the fact that I felt threatened, fearful, temporary. I felt mortal.

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Those of us who work in hospitals are witnesses to ‘a constantly prevented dying’. We react in different ways, and we rarely talk about it, but I have recognised more than once after a cardiac arrest call that has ended in death, a fleeting flash in the eyes of a colleague that screams “that could be us, we all die!’

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Finding the words

Making and documenting good decisions about CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) and treatment escalation plans, that are truly shared decisions, is a challenge. I find that the challenge comes from a number of factors: intrinsic difficulties of talking about the possibility of death in a largely death-denying culture; the great diversity of beliefs, wishes, and level of preparation for such decisions amongst patients; difficulties in facing my own mortality and the ways in which personal situations may affect my professional abilities; navigating tensions between hope and acceptance; and additional complexities that stem from having such conversations in the context of an emergency hospital admission. In the midst of a busy shift, faced with distressed people who are in pain, sometimes it is hard to find the words.

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Living loss

I got to know Joseph * over a number of months. He was first admitted to hospital in April, when his bed overlooked the garden with trees in bud. As Spring turned to Summer he was readmitted, and when Autumn came he watched the leaves change colour and fall. Each time he was admitted he spent more time in hospital and less time at home, and we worried more about whether this admission might be his last.

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Critical care

I was one of the lucky ones this year and was not working on Christmas Day. After my shift on Christmas Eve I fed the cat, packed up the car with presents and headed to my brother’s house. Waiting for me was a glass of mulled wine, and a hug. Christmas Day was lovely and it was with a heavy heart that I left my family and battled the driving rain in order to get back to London for my night shift on Boxing Day. My feelings of dread were not misplaced: the shift was tough. But most of my shifts have been tough of late. I am in the midst of a six month rotation on ICU (the intensive care unit), having left the familiarity of the acute medical ward and the outpatient clinic, replacing them with a world of ventilators, alarms and intense emotions. I am used to hard work, but I find intensive care physically and emotionally exhausting. It has taken me by surprise just how difficult it is to get through the weeks and I have begun to realise that this is primarily due to a concern that not everything I am going is ‘the right thing’.

Clinicians in Intensive Care Unit

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