Thirteen words and 40 minutes

Walmsley, Jean

We have come together to honour this amazing man who was Father, Teacher, Mentor, Physician and Friend to so many of us for years. My name is Jean and my friend Joan and I had the honour of working with Dr. Ian when he was the Director of Palliative Care at Parkwood Hospital, first in the hospital setting and later on a Community Palliative Care Consultation Team in the later 80’s and part of the 90’s in London, Ontario. For the last couple of years of his life we both enjoyed taking him on outings to Dishington’s in Lambeth where he would enjoy high tea with scones, jam and clotted cream. I am sure many of you have been there with him as he was a frequent visitor and well known there to all. As his memory began to fail, over tea, he would recount numerous stories of his time spent as a young lad, visiting patients with his Dad as he made rounds in the community in England. Often he would ask….“is that my scone left”….he loved his scones!

One of the most memorable of times and the most teachable of moments with Dr. Ian was one morning making rounds on the Palliative Care unit at Parkwood Hospital. He would visit 14 patients, giving each of them every bit of the time and attention that they needed. One particular morning, things were very busy on the unit….they usually were…..and Dr. Ian had just come to visit the 6th patient…..Mrs. Brown. He approached her very quietly as she lay in bed, eyes closed. He pulled up a chair and sat beside her bed, putting his hand on the cover, next to hers, in short reach if she wanted to hold his hand, but the choice was hers. They sat quietly for some time, Mrs. Brown with her eyes closed and Dr. Ian just waiting. Eventually he said to her in such a gentle manner…..“Is there anything you would like to ask me?” There was again a very long period of silence, many many minutes went by and we nurses were getting restless as there were 8 other patients still to visit….and charts to be written up and orders to be done.

Nonetheless, Mrs Brown had his undivided attention and took considerable time to respond. At long last she opened her eyes, looked at him and asked very matter-of-factly……“Am I dying?” His answer was……“What do you think?” Again her eyes remained closed and after another long period of silence, she opened them and, moving her hand over to touch his, she said…..”I think so.” His response was…..“I think so too”. Another long period of silence, and then she looked him squarely in the eyes and said…“Thank You” … and closed her eyes again. Again, he waited in case she wanted to add something. After probably 10 more minutes of silence, he quietly said goodbye, left the room and continued on with his rounds. Mrs Brown appeared restful and at peace.

Those thirteen words spoken over 40 minutes …..this most critical of conversations……were filled with genuine respect, a deep knowledge and understanding of the human spirit, a calmness, deep caring and compassion and total reverence for Mrs. Brown. That was Dr. Ian McWhinney who has touched the lives of all of us in so many ways.

I am so grateful for the lessons I learned from him and for the respect shown me as a person and the support given me as a nurse. I have missed him and will continue to think of him often.

Theme: Death and Dying | Décès et le mourir
Theme: Patients | Patients
Theme: Physicians | Médecins
Theme: Relationships | Relations

Stories in Family Medicine | Récits en médecine familiale [Internet] Mississauga ON: College of Family Physicians of Canada. 2008 --.



Ian McWhinney
Dr. Ian McWhinney

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