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  • The empty chair, a blog by Dr Chris Tiplady

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    • Chris Tiplady
    • 13/07/21
    • Everyone


    In this blog Dr Chris Tiplady, consultant haematologist at Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, talks about the importance of building relationships with patients, carers and relatives. When a patient's family member dies, it leaves an empty chair in the consultation room and brings a sense of unexpected loss.

    Dr Tiplady reflects that throughout the pandemic, empty chairs have become a very common sight and he encourages readers to see these empty chairs as a reminder: "They should remind you to talk, to enquire over who should be in that chair, to have the conversations that need to be had, to recognise the relationships we all have that support us and that make our days better."

    The empty chair, a blog by Dr Chris Tiplady https://www.rcpath.org/discover-pathology/news/blog-the-empty-chair.html
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    Beautiful post. Very moving.

    My own 'empty chair' moment came when I went back into the Covid ward the day after I had sat with a dying man in February 2021. His urine was like coffee, his breath a continuous groan - he was barely hanging on to life. As a volunteer, I was to keep him company, talk to him and comfort him as he suffered and coughed and tried so hard to breathe. In that time we shared something important and intimate. Around him there had been complete pandemonium - in our little room, only groaning and fear.

    I had had to leave, but the next day I wanted to know how he was doing. It was my first thought when I opened my eyes that morning. How is Albert doing? Is he improved? Is there good news? Back in the deployment hub the lead nurse told me, "he passed away a couple of hours after you left." For a fleeting moment a kind of panic entered my soul, but there was nothing I or anyone could do now or could have done then. We could only look at one another and think our own thoughts.

    That was a terrible time for NHS staff and volunteers (and of course patients). I wanted to go back to that room, just for a moment, to look at his empty bed and remember... but of course his bed wasn't empty, and it wasn't his bed. Another man lay dying of Delta Covid in his place. Another would come after him. And another.


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    Thank you so much for sharing your experience - it must have been such a hard thing to be in the midst of. I'm sure your presence meant so much to Albert in all the suffering and chaos. We don't hear enough about the volunteers who put themselves in the firing line to help the NHS and its patients during the pandemic - if you'd like to share any more of your experience on the hub we would love to hear your reflections.

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