David Bowie and palliative care

David Bowie and palliative care

It's a month since music legend David Bowie passed away from his battle with cancer and lots of famous and not so famous people have been writing touching tributes. One of the more unusual ones that went viral was an open letter by a palliative care doctor in the UK.

In it, Dr Mark Taubert thanked the singer for opening up a discussion about end of life care with a patient of his who had received a terminal diagnosis. He writes:

"So back to the conversation I had with the lady who had recently received the news that she had advanced cancer that had spread, and that she would probably not live much longer than a year or so. She talked about you and loved your music, but for some reason was not impressed by your Ziggy Stardust outfit (she was not sure whether you were a boy or a girl). She too, had memories of places and events for which you provided an idiosyncratic soundtrack.

"And then we talked about a good death, the dying moments and what these typically look like. And we talked about palliative care and how it can help. She told me about her mother’s and her father’s death, and that she wanted to be at home when things progressed, not in a hospital or emergency room, but that she’d happily transfer to the local hospice should her symptoms be too challenging to treat at home.

"We both wondered who may have been around you when you took your last breath and whether anyone was holding your hand. I believe this was an aspect of the vision she had of her own dying moments that was of utmost importance to her, and you gave her a way of expressing this most personal longing to me, a relative stranger.

"Thank you."

Dr Taubert also took the opportunity in his letter to raise awareness of what palliative care can do and the importance of advance care planning - planning heath and care decisions prior to things getting worse and before becoming unable to express them. While these sorts of discussions may not be pleasant for the person who is sick or for their family, it is just as important to die well as it is to live well.

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