Company for the Dying
19 December, 2012
Archie Cochrane was a doctor famous for pioneering controlled experiments in medicine. He was interned at Elsterhorst a hospital for prisoners of war. A young Russian soldier was brought to his ward late at night. The man was in an awful condition and was screaming incessantly; Cochrane took him to his own room because he didn’t want him to wake up the rest of the ward.
But he felt he could do nothing for the man’s pain, which he blamed on pleurisy, an agonising deterioration of his lungs and lung cavity.
‘I had no morphia, just aspirin, which had no effect. I felt desperate. I knew very little Russian and there was nobody in the ward who did. I finally instinctively sat down on the bed and took him in my arms, and the screaming stopped almost at once. He died peacefully in my arms a few hours later. It was not the pleurisy that caused the screaming but loneliness. It was a wonderful education about the care of the dying.’