A right to die in peace?

They say the last sense to go before you die is your hearing. So imagine what it would be like to die hearing this, almost continuously, in your last hours or the last hours of a loved one:


Me holding my Mum's hand not long before she died

Me holding my Mum’s hand not long before she died

This is what my Mum heard in the lead up to her death, except when me and my sister were talking to her or playing her music (and we couldn’t do that continuously hour after hour). My Mum could not communicate in any way whatsoever – not even a blink for ‘yes’ or ‘no’ – for the last 12 hours, so all she had was this noise, plus me and my sister and very occasionally someone else, speaking to her.

The sounds you hear were recorded at my mother’s bedside in the 24 hours before she died in a NHS hospital in England some time in 2016. And they were not even the worst – with the ‘record’ button pressed just as the noise was starting to die down.

You don’t hear the man who shouted (and I mean shouted, not just speaking loudly) “nurse, nurse, nurse, nurse, nurse, nurse” (about a five second gap between each ‘nurse’) for up to 10 minutes at a time and perhaps a dozen instances in the time my mother was on the ward in which she died.

You do not hear the inappropriate conversations my Mum would have clearly heard, such as a nurse saying that there was a hour’s delay at the pharmacy (not what you want to hear if you need more painkillers or drugs to help with your anxiety) or that there was still no oxygen for the resuscitation equipment 10 hours after it was requested (fortunately, Mum was ‘DNR,’ but what if she hadn’t been?), or the conversation that all three of us heard: a visitor saying that she did not know how she would cope if her loved one was dying.

When my Mum could still just about speak, every word from her was potentially precious or important. So imagine ours and her distress at her barely whispered sounds being drowned out by a sudden raised voice or clatter.

There was some noise or other day and night. There might have been five minutes’ quiet late in the night, but then some movement, conversation or bleep would break the silence.

As you can gather, my Mum was not put in a side room. They only had two side rooms on this ward – a ward where elderly people receive end-of-life-care week in, week out. Three people died (including my Mum) on the ward in the almost one week she was there.

This ward also did not have any facilities for me and my sister. There was no ‘family room’ and we didn’t have access to a toilet on the ward. We were only allowed to use the staff kitchen to make a hot drink at night after asking. We even had to take a chair from the corridor so that both me and sister could sit with Mum. Of course, this lack of facilities is secondary to the issue of the noise on the ward and I would have traded my ability to catch 40 winks or not have to be buzzed in and out to go downstair for a pee … if Mum could have been in a quiet room.

My Mum said she wanted to die at home, “for the peace,” as she put it to me. Five days before my Mum died, the hospital said they were arranging for Mum to go home – “probably tomorrow,” the doctor said. We soon learned that tomorrow would not be possible, nor the day after, nor the day after that. It was finally possible for Mum to be taken the 17 miles home on the day she finally died. However, it was decided that she was now too unwell to travel. So my Mum’s final wish was not granted and she died on a noisy ward with me and my sister talking to her as much as possible in order to counter the racket.

Hopefully, my story is extremely rare. But, if not, something needs to change. It is my assertion that no one should have to die on a ward. It should be possible for them to be in a side room or to go to either a hospice or home in a timely way.


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