Home Health I’ve watched 2,000 people die

I’ve watched 2,000 people die


DEATH is a morbid and scary prospect that many of us avoid thinking about wherever possible.

But a palliative care doctor who has spent 20 years on the job says working with people with little time left has given her a new appreciation for life – and made her believe in the afterlife.

Dr Sarah Wells has been a medical director at Marie Curie Hospice in Solihull, West Midlands, since 2015 and looked after 2,000 patientsCredit: Marie Curie

Dr Sarah Wells has looked after 2,000 terminally ill patients.

Writing for The Telegraph, she said her job has allowed her to see that people’s final hours are “special” and even “beautiful” rather than something to fear.

Dr Wells has been a medical director at Marie Curie Hospice in Solihull, West Midlands, since 2015, having worked her way up from the post of junior doctor.

She heads a team of 10 doctors and looks after 12 to 20 patients at a time, each with terminal diagnoses of dementia, heart disease, organ failure, motor neurone disease and advanced cancer – all with just weeks left to live.

Not everyone Dr Wells cares for is well into their old age, she noted.

In fact, her patients “disproportionately include lots of younger people”.

She said many of those she cares for are scared of the unknown, especially if they’ve witnessed a loved one’s painful last moments.

Dr Wells described one woman with heart failure who was terrified of what was to come after seeing her dad succumb to the same condition.

The palliative care doctor wrote: “We reassured her that dying is generally a peaceful process, during which people get sleepier as their organs slow down and they slip into unconsciousness, able to hear and feel the touch of a hand, even though they can’t communicate.”

Palliative medicine specialist Dr Kathryn Mannix previously revealed the different stages your body goes through when you pass.

Aside from gaining a different perspective on the life event people fear the most, Dr Wells said her job had opened her mind to realms outside of the living.

She explained: “I’m not at all religious but my spiritual belief in an afterlife has been strengthened by my work.

“Patients talk to me not so much about God, but the deceased relatives they see coming to them.”

Dr Wells said one particular sign always alerts her that her patients don’t have long.

“When they tell me they’ve seen their mum, or a lost child, or even a pet – whether as spirits or images in their mind, it depends on their belief system, but they always find it reassuring – I know they only have hours or days left,” she said.

And the doctor isn’t squeamish about dead bodies due to her life of work.

“We talk to the deceased as we would when they were alive,” she added.

“Nurses perform the last offices and we wash and dress the deceased with the support of their family.

“It’s a dignified, beautiful ritual; my sadness is accompanied by a sense of pride that we were able to play a tiny part in their lives.”

‘Every day is precious’

As she spends so much of her day contemplating death, DR Wells said she no longer sweats the small things in life, like “traffic jams” or “tax returns”.

It’s also taught her to take care of herself and her health.

“At 52, I exercise and eat well to remain as healthy as possible, but I don’t worry about getting ill,” Dr Wells wrote.

“I appreciate family and friends more and focus on the now, rather than what could happen in the future.”

The doctor tells her patients that even if they have just one day left, “every day is precious” – and she holds that belief now too.

She herself in not scared of dying, she wrote, as she understands what will happen.

She intends to make sure she’s surrounded by people she loves.