Each to his own

People worry about the medicalisation of everyday life. Old age has been medicalised, they say. So has childbirth and so has eating. The list goes on.

But I was brought up in the post-war boom when science was the future. Soon, robots would do all the work, while we flitted around in personal planes planning our next holiday to Mars.

Disease? Just swallow these pills. Hungry? Just swallow these pills. In pain? Never again.

So when I hear that death, too, has been medicalised, part of me finds the idea comforting. And if ever I needed comfort, it was last Friday.

I had dreaded visiting Peter. Ever since hearing he was back in hospital, it had weighed on my mind.

I barely slept on Thursday night. How do you have a bedside chat with an old friend whose terminal cancer is already hogging the best chair in the room?

Not only did I fear the encounter, but I feared what my fear said about me. Here was a friend dying of cancer, and all I cared about was my own discomfort. It was all about me.

And then I arrived at the hospital, and at once began to find the sight and sounds, the familiar bustle and even the confusing signs, comforting. There were smokers on the pavement, a coffee shop and a ward mission statement.

When I found Peter, he seemed tired. ‘So you’re on a cancer journey,’ I said, quoting that mission statement, and he laughed wryly.

There were tubes, bleeps and the sound of someone in the other bed being turned. In Peter’s hand was a device that controlled the pain, and as we talked, he drifted in and out of sleep.

Back at the office, a colleague asked how it went, and to his surprise I told him I had found being in the hospital comforting. ‘Each to his own,’ he said. ‘But at least the drugs will ease him out gently.’

How bad can that be, I thought. A medicalised death. Each to his own.

This article is for subscribers only