19: Survival of the Kindest Christmas Special: Ice Cream – Small Things That Make Big Differences

This week Julian talks to three other Palliative Care Physicians about end of life care, having conversations about what matters most, and life and death in the time of Covid. Consultant in Palliative care Professor Mark Taubert, best-selling author and retired palliative care Consultant Dr Kathryn Mannix and Consultant in Palliative care Professor Max Watson bring their extraordinary compassion, innate humanity, years of experience and deep understanding of palliative care into a discussion which is equally moving and entertaining.

This year has seen thousands of us unable to share precious moments with those we love; births, deaths, weddings, divorces, good news and bad news alike, and now Christmas too will be a lonelier affair than normal. These monuments by which we mark life’s passing have gone largely unrecognised. For the palliative care community this has added extra challenges, both emotional and logistical.

Doctors and nurses have become the sole messengers of comfort for patients and families who may never see each other again. They have had to innovate to bring people together, support each other through tough conversations that are happening at the wrong time about lives suddenly cut short. Professor Mark Taubert says : ‘I’ve seen people dying alone and I’ve been fearful, I’ve sometimes been frightened of going into the room, but then I’ve sometimes been not wanting to leave the room once I’ve been in because, you know the person is going to be alone again for such a long time.’

The conversation is peppered with anecdotes that have stayed with the doctors, all four of whom have sat along side thousands of deaths. Hearing fresh sadness from the retelling of stories from 30 years ago underlines what they all say which is that stories are the things that last. That they are how we remember one and other, they are how we communicate about the process of death and dying. Dr Mannix, whose book With the End in Mind ‘give[s] dying back to the public’ by telling stories, says that the stories we build during the process of dying make up ‘a whole family narrative of what happened that they [families] comfort themselves with and becomes the story that takes them safely into bereavement’

For all four of them their desire to educate people about death literacy has been amplified during Covid and all three of the guests have been playing their part in the response both on the front line, and in working with policies and procedures to help healthcare professionals cope. Their underlying message, as Dr Watson phrases it, is that ‘without connection we are not human beings’.

Dr Kathryn Mannix With the End in Mind, Twitter

Professor Max Watson Twitter, Project Hospice Nepal

Professor Mark Taubert Twitter

Julian Abel can be found on Twitter

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