Thursday, January 23, 2020
Dear Life: a doctor's story of love and loss
By Rachel Clarke
Published in UK Jan 30th 2020 by Little, Brown
Rachel Clarke had led a fascinating professional life as a journalist before finally becoming a doctor. From her first introduction to death via tv shows, her father's medical anecdotes and then her own very real brushes with death by an almost fatal car accident and being present during a bombing in London, death has very much been a part of her life.
However, for me, her work as a specialist palliative care doctor is even more gripping and fascinating to read than her life as a journalist. She brings such incredible compassion to her work, to the people she considers it a privilege to treat and help, and she argues cogently and convincingly that palliative care deserves more airtime, more funding, more public awareness and constant improvements. After all, it is a certainty that we are all going to die. How we make the most of our last days, weeks and months when given a terminal diagnosis can most definitely be improved upon by making hospice care less of a postcode/funding lottery and more of a guaranteed standard of care within the NHS.
She writes movingly of making incredibly fast wedding arrangements for people in hospices, of birthday parties, enabling very unwell people to take part in special occasions which have immense meaning for them and the over-arching importance of providing honest communication on whatever level or depth in which the terminally ill person wishes to engage with the palliative care staff.
Interspersed with her own life and work are wonderful vignettes of her GP father and her interactions with him. They are very different characters in many ways, with different views of life and politics, but their absolute respect and love for each other shines through the entire book.
How she deals with her beloved father's terminal illness and death is influenced by her own work and her work is in turn influenced by his death. He sounds a remarkable man, someone I would have loved to have met in real life, and thanks to Rachel's book, I feel as though I have.
This is a truly wonderful book, and definitely one which I will be re-reading several times.
Many thanks to the publisher for allowing me an Advance Reading Copy via NetGalley in return for my honest opinion.