Clarke (Your Life in My Hands), a UK-based palliative care physician, looks at her life and career thus far in this intensely moving and personal memoir. From childhood accidents to feeling helpless while covering a terrorist bombing of a London nail salon as a TV journalist, to assisting injured people in the midst of her decision to become a doctor, the author also reflects on her medical education and calling to help people with a terminal illness live the remainder of their lives as fully as possible and to die with dignity and comfort. Along the way, she shares insight into her own story, and coming to terms with the realities of facing grief on a daily basis. Through it all, Clarke remains empathetic and personable. Toward the end, she describes how her father, also a physician, is diagnosed with terminal cancer, and how she takes leave from her job to assist him, and her mother, in his final journey. VERDICT Clarke is a clear-eyed, compassionate storyteller, and the stories of her patients' suffering and final moments—along with her father's—demonstrate how human connections are the terminally ill's most vital medicine. A gripping read.—Marcia G. Welsh, Dartmouth Coll. Lib., Hanover, NH
End-of-life stories from a palliative care doctor.
When she was growing up, Clarke loved to listen to her physician father tell stories about his patients, many of which taught her “a different, quieter style of doctoring in which medicine perhaps achieved less yet was kinder and more humane.” Following those lessons, when she became a doctor, she chose palliative care. “I use my training and skills,” she writes, “specifically to help people with a terminal illness live what remains of their lives as fully as possible, and to die with dignity and comfort....Rarely, if ever, does a week go by in which all of my patients survive.” In this fascinating and often moving narrative, which features sometimes graphic details, Clarke gives readers an inside view into the life of the terminally ill and those who attend to them in hospice. Make no mistake: Reading about death page after page will bring tears to even the most hardened readers, but the author’s empathetic approach leads to a clear understanding of death that most don’t receive until facing the prospect themselves. Clarke also intertwines her own tales of near-death experiences and of her father’s terminal cancer, and her unwavering sincerity and honesty reflect the profundity of life and dignified death. “In a hospice,” she writes, “…there is more of what matters—more love, more strength, more kindness, more smiles, more dignity, more joy, more tenderness, more grace, more compassion—than you could ever imagine. I work in a world that thrums with life. My patients teach me all I need to know about living.” Clarke’s message is especially timely as we continue to face a global pandemic, and she also includes practical advice on end-of-life preparations and helpful notes about relevant resources.
Death comes to all of us; these authentic stories show how it can be met with strength and grace instead of fear.