18 Apr ‘Dear Life’
“In navigating this complex web of fact, fear, imagination and physiology, a palliative care doctor is a scientist with a hint of shaman.” Rachel Clarke is one of these scientist/shaman working with the living, who happen to be dying. In ‘Dear Life’, she manages to articulate the challenges of being a medical doctor with a big heart on the front line of end of life care. She takes us with her, on her journey to become a doctor, combined with the roles of mother and daughter. It is her warmth as a person that comes through in her writing and allows us to connect with her experience. She recognises the importance of fundamental values like kindness, listening, and as she puts it, “patient, not disease, centre stage”. She is a representative of an underfunded sector of an under-funded NHS, a pragmatic yet passionate doctor. She recognises how, “patients oblige, comply, obey; they cannot risk dissent when so much power is concentrated in medical hands.” She is a powerful advocate for “small acts of kindness, and simple touch to transcend primal fear.” She doesn’t shy away from facing issues of ‘desperation medicine’, which is a tempting treatment avenue to follow when including death in the conversation around life-limiting conditions is avoided. She is wise and understanding as she accompanies patients and their families, navigating hospice life together. “I forgot how much it hurts to love someone while losing them”, she admits. Her descriptions of the vibrant life on a hospice ward are inspiring and life affirming. She shows us what is possible in the face of difficulty. “In the absence of cure there is still love, joy, togetherness, smiles, tears, wonder, solace – all of life, only concentrated.” Her own grief unfolds through the narrative when her father is diagnosed with cancer. This becomes the lens which deepens her clinical practice and reminds us that “grief, like love, is non-negotiable”.