"Critical memories"

About: Swaffham Community Hospital

(as a relative),

It is interesting to read people's experiences when their loved ones die and to see a common theme: how important it is to communicate crucial information sensitively. I remember so clearly talking to the local doctor as my elderly father was dying in a local hospital in Swaffham, Norfolk. It was Boxing Day and dad had suffered the final of a series of strokes, leaving him without the facility even to eat or drink. As my brother and I drove from London to Norfolk we agreed together that dad would not want his life to be prolonged when there was no chance of any improvement in his condition.

We arrived to find dad with his eyes open but not reacting to any stimulus. His eyes were very blue, I remember - even bluer than usual. Imagine our suprise on this Boxing Day afternoon to be met by the doctor - a youngish local GP - who sat us down to discuss with us what we preferred. He said that dad could be taken to Queen Elizabeth's where there was state of the art treatment and interventions, should we wish. We explained our position and he listened to our decision, which was to let dad continue in the cottage hospital in Swaffham, which was just yards from his own home. Only afterwards did the doctor offer his own opinion, which was to say: "I am glad you have made that decision". The little hospital was delightful - quite old fashioned. It was sparkling, the linen was crisp and white, and dad was clean and his hair was combed. He had a side room to himself, with a window close to the nurses' station. We left him with a ghetto blaster, quietly playing his favourite classical music and he passed away peacefully not long afterwards.

How well I remember that this doctor made time, gave us time, and listened to our wishes and opinions. It was not a long conversation but I can recall it more or less word for word, along with the view from the window and many other small details. Every health care professional should be aware of the importance of this aspect of care, when consideration moves from the dying patient to those about to be bereaved - for them it is as critical as the incision in a surgical operation, the right prescription for optimum recovery. Much anger and sorrow would be avoided simply with the right human approach at these moments.

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