Dr John Smith column: The encounter that transformed my life

Cransley Hospice: Kettering: Cransley Hospice on St Mary's Hospital site 'Wednesday 24th July 2013 ENGNNL00120130724134021
Cransley Hospice: Kettering: Cransley Hospice on St Mary's Hospital site 'Wednesday 24th July 2013 ENGNNL00120130724134021
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I remember the year well, 1967. I was a fourth year medical student and well into my clinical studies, spending several hours a day on the wards.

Theory had become reality and I was beginning to see some seriously ill patients.

Symptom control was not always good and for most of the time the patients were not told just how ill they were.

If they got better, fine, if they died it was more than difficult.

Then in 1967 along came Cicely Saunders. She had just opened St Christopher’s.

The modern hospice movement was born and here she was talking to us, a group of medical students.

Patients were listened to, given time, their symptoms explained and treated properly.

Painkillers were given at an effective dose and given regularly. It became normal to speak honestly about prognosis.

It would be wrong to say that they were not frightened because knowing that you are going to die is frightening, but they were supported and cared for.

When I heard this I was transfixed.

It was a moment of conversion, the beginning of transformation.

I knew from that moment that I would one day work with patients with terminal disease, work in a hospice.

It was an epiphany that took 25 years to accomplish.

Well, not quite.

As a young medical student I learned that I could only work by seeing the patient as a whole person whose illness could not be separated from work, home and relationships.

I knew from that moment that concerns and expectations had to be met and I knew that it took time.

Life would have taken a different course if I had not met Cicely Saunders on that day in 1967.

It transformed my life and slowly, slowly gave birth to Cransley Hospice.