In his book "Standing on the Platform", he records narratives of encounters with patients and families that moved, challenged or humbled him. As he writes movingly he captures something of what it is to be fully human in the charged depth encounters with people who are approaching death. He makes acute observations of the seemingly small gestures of love, for example, a wife rubbing a husband's feet, the known rhythm and tone of speech between people who have lived a lifetime together, and even the lived environment on a home visit dominated by Elvis memorabilia, making up the fabric of a life.
Frank uses the narratives in the training of junior doctors as a way to increase reflexivity and humanity and to holistically educate and expand perception of the patient as a whole person, not just a patient with a disease in a bed. There is some concern among senior palliative care physicians as to whether junior doctors "get" that spirituality is at the core of care of the dying and using narratives tends to open the discussions.
Whilst there is a strong public health focus in Australia on having the conversations about death, Frank is in no doubt that there is a need for a focus on improving the communication skills of professionals involved in all areas of end of life care and in supporting them to do this.
Frank shared one of his reflections on the poem by Bruce Dawe, called "White -Water Rafting and Palliative Care".The poem describes the nature of illness, the approach of death and the role of palliative care and speaks volumes about what some people experience.
"If I had understood (when down the river
you and I went swirling in that boat)
that there were those who knew the ways of water
and how to keep the oars afloat
------I might have been less deafened by the worry,
less stunned by thoughts of what lay up ahead
(the rocks, the darkness threatening to capsize daily),
if only I had realised instead
that help was all around me for the asking
-----I never asked, and therefore never knew
that such additional comfort could have helped me
in turn to be more help in comforting you.".........
Frank writes that the presence of those who know the ways of water may be crucial to the manner patients and their relatives experience serious illness, death and dying. Frank is clearly a man who knows "the ways of water" and has guided many down the river. It is a privilege to learn from him and hear how he so skillfully applies art to educate about death, increase death literacy and improve communication. He is inviting us to connect with our own experiences and those of others and make meaning from that-ultimately restoring a sense of wholeness.
This feels like a very timely entry on which to pause the blog on completion of this phase of the travel fellowship in Australia and reflect gratefully on a host of rich experiences.