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Clarity and reality – Remembering Cicely

Author: Dr David Oliver
06 August 2015

Dr David Oliver, Consultant in Palliative Medicine, Wisdom Hospice, Rochester, and Honorary Reader at the University of Kent, reflects on the ‘Remembering Cicely’ conference held at St Christopher’s Hospice in June.

Listening to the talks about Dame Cicely brought back so many memories. I first came to St Christopher’s as a student on my elective in 1978 and spent a month working on the wards as an auxiliary and having the opportunity to see everyone at work. Six years later I was back as registrar!

I have so many good memories of my two years at the hospice. The team was so welcoming and I had the wonderful opportunity to work closely with Mary Baines and Tom West, both showing the various aspects of care and medicine for patients and families, both in the hospice and at home.

The Grand Rounds were always a time of anxiety as the registrar would be expected to present a patient with complex needs and we were always concerned as to the reaction of Dr Saunders. However, I can remember that after all the discussion, she would bring a clarity and reality to the deliberations, focussing clearly on the patient and family.

When I had moved to be consultant at the Wisdom Hospice in Rochester I would return at times for Grand Rounds, where we could bring our issues. On one occasion I discussed a man who was refusing to leave his house, but his symptoms were getting worse. 

There was discussion about the need for blood tests and investigations to elucidate the cause of these symptoms but at the end, Dr Saunders pointed out that if he was determined to stay at home, all we could do was treat according to our best judgement and investigations were never going to be a viable option.

I was also brought back to 1985 when several speakers talked of “the sherry.” As a registrar on call on Sundays we were ‘summoned’ to Dr Saunders’ office for a glass of sherry before lunch. After a busy morning seeing patients and families a large sherry was certainly a challenge – and trying to remain sober and upright when leaving her office a further challenge!

Dame Cicely was always very supportive and when we were expecting our second child during my first year at the hospice she provided books for my wife to read, as she was in Kings’ College Hospital for several weeks during a difficult pregnancy. 

When Tom was born she sent him, not the parents! a card.  It was of a rainbow and inside was written “may you find your crock of gold.”

It was a privilege to be at St Christopher’s and work alongside Dame Cicely, who had such an impact on the care of the dying and modern medicine.

This article was originally published on the St Christopher's Hospice website and appears here with permission. Follow the Remembering Cicely series on ehospice this week.
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