Monday, September 25, 2006

Doctors in the house

“I kept my eyes down; I could not face the fluency of her hands.”

These were the words that had me weeping as I drove to work this morning. They came from Dr Frank Brennan, a Sydney-based palliative care physician who was speaking on Radio National, on Dr Norman Swan’s fabulous Health Report Program. Wow, such amazing stuff. Brennan has released a book of recollections based around his palliative work.

In the quote above he was describing the experience of explaining to a family that their father/grandfather/husband was no longer able to deal with his chemotherapy and that he would now begin the quiet march towards death. A couple of the family members were deaf. One of the young daughters had to ‘sign’ the words that Brennan was delivering. These words were ones he had uttered many times before but, slowing them down to accommodate the signing, they took on new resonance in his head. The family’s dignity, the love for the dying man, the plight of all his patients hit the doctor and he found himself in tears at the end of the experience.

Other stories told by Brennan dealt with the bond of love between husbands and wives, the disturbing effect regrets have when it comes time to die and the continually present reminder palliative work provides that we must live a full life, living out our talents and dreams and pursuing love. “A well lived life” as Brennan and others before him have described it.

The voice of Brennan and his words were powerful, moving and deeply human. I respect and appreciate – so very much - the work he and others in the field do. I wish I had had someone like him in my life at times when it was required. Perhaps I will in the future.

I love Dr Swan too. Thank you, thank you, thank you Norman Swan for constantly looking that bit deeper into the liquids, cells, motors and neurons that make the human body tick. And thank you for giving credit to the uncelebrated lives of the people who make a real difference to how we experience life. They’ll never make it on to Australian Idol or the front page of the Women’s Weekly.


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