Dr David Crichton blog: I thought I was dying in the Himalayas

David Crichton at Everest base camp
With Vanessa and Jangbu Sherpa at Everest base camp.

Published every Monday in the Doncaster Star:

One night nearly 18 months ago I thought I was going to die. My partner, Vanessa, and I were on a climbing expedition in the Himalayas, a day away from the Everest base camp and resting for the evening when I suddenly had difficulty breathing.

My oxygen saturation levels were low, due to the effects of altitude. I felt ill, but Vanessa – also a GP – reassured me I was having a panic attack and I was able to get my breathing back under control and calm down. It was an unnerving experience, which I thankfully overcame, and the next day reached base camp some 5,360 metres up the world’s tallest mountain.

But it did make me wonder what dying might feel like. I recounted this story last week to delegates at Doncaster’s firstĀ End of Life Care Conference. The event was an excellent opportunity for personal reflection and to discuss what organisations like ours are doing to improve care services for those close to death, in line with Government recommendations.

End of life care has been of interest to me for many years after being actively involved in local and regionally based groups that are looking at ways of improving the services currently provided.

It’s a priority for Doncaster and we’re making good progress. We needed to improve the care co-ordination of those who are in their last days of life and this is now taking place. We know have a service based at Doncaster Royal Infirmary that provides specialist advice round-the-clock to GPs like me on the care of terminally ill patients; we have rapid discharge from hospital arrangements for those who want to be cared for at their preferred police of care at home; and Woodfield 24, the home care service, is proving a help to families caring for a dying loved one.

Around 59 percent of Doncaster people die in hospital compared to the England average of 54 percent. We’re working to reduce this figure as we know from patient surveys most would prefer to die at home with their loved ones around them.

To use a climbing metaphor, we’re not at the summit yet, but we’re well above base camp and have a lot of on-going developments underway including working towards meeting the nationally agreed Gold Standard Framework for end of life care.

May 9 to 15 is Dying Matters Awareness Week. This year’s theme is the Big Conversation, encouraging people to talk about their end of life wishes so they can have a good death. Last year’s campaign found 35 percent of people had not made a will and just seven percent had written down their wishes or preferences about care they want if you couldn’t make decisions. Find out more at www.dyingmatters.org.

Remember, talking about dying won’t make it happen!

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