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Now and at the hour of our death

A dying patient in a nursing home receives a visit from two very different GPs, in the latest 'Through the K hole'

He was dying. A yellow mung bean, wrinkled flesh drilled with tubing that dripped in fluid. A Graseby slowly syringed a heady mix of pain relief and anti-emetic. Morphined and moribund, a catheter collected the sour wine.

The doctor, after seeing his last patient, went to visit him at the nursing home. The entrance hall was all dark wood and tartan carpets. There was a stained glass window, a heavy silver chandelier set in the vaulted ceiling and silent pictures of Mary with the Christ child.

The religious theme moistened the atmosphere with hope. There was a serenity at the home and the doctor always enjoyed speaking to the staff there, they shared his core beliefs.

He was taken along the corridor to the patient's room. Out of courtesy, the carer knocked before entering, but inside it was quiet twilight. The patient lay rusting in the breakers' yard of humanity.

Out of compassion, the doctor knew to keep his medicine simple and he increased the syringe driver, hoping to tantalise the inevitable.

He stroked the man's forehead, and muttered a soft prayer under his breath. Nothing eased pain quite like the human touch. As he left, the evening light streamed through the window and for an instant he was surrounded with fire and gold. In contrast to his dark charcoal suit, a pair of white translucent wings stretched out from his back, foaming with dove feathers as white as waterfall-spume. The man tried to struggle up, to thank him. Unsure of what he was seeing, he tried to clear his eyes but they were sutured with delirium.

Later that evening an out-of-hours doctor was called. He was harassed and in a foul mood. He had no time for niceties and barely acknowledged the team of evening staff and bank nurses. He felt oppressed by the religious icons and marched straight to the room to pronounce life extinct.

He slapped his bag down onto a copy of the patient's bible, hurriedly checked the still pools of his pupils and listened to the empty water barrel of his chest. He checked his watch and scrawled in the notes.

As he was about to leave he saw a feather on the ground. Curious, he stooped to pick it up, it was unusually slender, a fluted wave, and he held it up to the light. He stopped himself and sneered, realising that he had no time for this kind of nonsense. Besides, his work there was done.

He threw it nonchalantly into the waste paper bin as he left.

Written in response to: Decisions on end-of-life care 'heavily influenced by GPs' religious beliefs'. Dr Kevin Hinkley is a GP in Aberdeen.

Click here for more from Through the K hole Through the K hole - credit HaPe Gera, Flickr


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