Sunday, 17 July 2016

Reflections on near death experiences and celebrating the joy of the innocent

I was coming back from London last Friday when the train I was on slowed, and then stopped in the early evening sunshine. Eventually the Train Manager announced that due to someone being hit by a train on our line, we were facing delays of up to 90 mins. The incident had a number of different consequences. Most importantly would be for the man involved in the accident. Although as I write this blog he has survived, and remains in a serious condition, the accident will have a life changing legacy. Less importantly, the delay had a knock on impact for my evening’s arrangements. I was already very tired from what had been an extraordinary day of concentration at the NMC, so the delay probably increased my irritability 10 fold. As for the train company, they would face many claims as all delays over 30 mins would incur a compensation payment.

The train eventually was given the all clear to move and after a few minutes, we slowly passed the scene of the accident. An air ambulance helicopter, police cars and other emergency vehicles were visible around the stationary train involved. It was sobering to think of how many lives the accident would touch. The sad incident came less than 24 hours after the news broke of the terrorist attack and the deaths and injuries of so many people in Nice, France. Like many others, I was affected once again by the senseless killings. It was yet another attack on innocent people that follows a number of such barbaric and cowardly acts in recent months.

I think both events brought into sharp focus the finality of death, and of a life (lives) ending, often prematurely or suddenly without any warning. I am not sure why I was dwelling on these thoughts right now. Dealing with death in one form or the other has been part of my professional life for as long as I can remember. One of the memories I still cherish was the humbling privilege it felt, when for the first I was asked to perform the last offices for a patient I had cared for. I have sat with countless people who have expressed a desire to end their life, and I am proud to work with colleagues who are doing much to improve the quality of care provided to people at the end of their life. This year there have also been what  has felt like a high number of deaths of famous people, some from my youth, and some who were of a similar age to myself.

Quite strangely I had only last week been talking about my younger brother Christopher, who died way before his time. I was telling someone of his 'seize the moment' approach to life. In telling the story I also recalled the time I picked him up from a HDU, as he wanted to discharge himself. I remember sitting at his bed watching him peacefully sleeping, and his comment on awakening and seeing me there – 'Oh God I thought it was the Grim Reaper coming to get me'.

Christopher was a kind and generous person, often hedonistic in outlook, and someone who possessed an acerbic sense of humour. He would always have a comment about most things in life. Thinking about him reminded me of Brian Sewells great piece about growing old disgracefully, written just a couple of years before he died. I looked it up last week and read it again - it is worth a read, even if it’s just for his explanation of what he calls the therapeutic use of the word f**k (see here). Possibly not for you Mother.  

And dear reader, just to allay any concern you might have about my state of mind, let me reassure you, that rather than feeling morbid or despairing, thoughts of death and what gets left behind spur me on to enjoy life. Perhaps not in quite the same manner as Christopher or Brian sometimes did, but maybe somewhere in-between. I am very fortunate to be part a large and extended family. This weekend has been devoted to being immersed in the lives of those who really know how to enjoy every second of life, 5 of my 9 grandchildren. Yesterday it was sleep overs, jumping in puddles, feeding ducks, walking Cello, haircuts (not mine), cooking meals for the freezer (or rather for busy Mums). Today, it will be similar (minus the haircuts) and enjoyed with an 8 year old fun loving girl and her younger twin siblings. Oh, and there will be ladder climbing, playing with big boys toys and tongue twisting conversations thrown in for good measure too.