Letter: Hospitals that help patients to face death

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Sir: When my father, aged 82, suffered a stroke last year and had to be collected by ambulance from the floor of his bungalow in Swaffham, Norfolk, he was taken to the community hospital up the road. We were asked to consider the next step: getting him a place in a nursing home and selling his property. This was all done with great sensitivity. However, because Christmas was imminent, staff and social workers agreed that he should stay at Swaffham Cottage Hospital until the New Year so that he would not be upset.

Over the next few days Dad suffered a further series of small strokes. On Boxing Day we found him a ghost of himself, both physically and mentally. His doctor was waiting to speak to us. Sitting in the nurses' room, amid Christmas gifts, the doctor gently asked us what we wished to do next. We could ask to have Dad transferred to the big district hospital at King's Lynn, where every effort would be made to resuscitate him, or we could leave him quietly where he was. We children had no hesitation in saying we preferred Dad to be left in peace. We were confident this was what he wanted. He would get no quality of life from an extra few months bed- bound and semi-conscious.

Once we had made our decision plain, the doctor affirmed that it would be his too and he was glad this was the course we had chosen. Dad lasted a couple more days. He could not eat but was given a little to drink. He lay asleep in a clean bed, always newly washed, in crisply ironed pyjamas and with his hair combed, until he slipped away.

We felt that doctors and nurses were exemplary in their approach and treatment. Suffering was not prolonged, neither was anyone in the family left with a feeling of guilt. There were no indignities inflicted on Dad and, though death is always accompanied by a sadness, his treatment at the end could not have been better. I still feel a great sense of debt to the medical staff attached to Swaffham Cottage Hospital. Kindness, not gross medical intervention, released us all.

JILL GALE

Hampton, Middlesex

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