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Writing competition


Writing competition; highly commended (entry 148)

2016 winners announced

The winner of the 2016 competition is Warwickshire GP Felicitas Woodhouse. Our sincere thanks to all who entered this year's competition.

We will be publishing the winner in a special digital feature in October.


Runner up

Tragedy and kindness go hand in hand

Tragedy and kindness go hand in hand

KickerThis is a kicker.

Deaths were inevitable and frequent on the AIDS unit during the 1980s, and staff weaved their way through patients fears, stoicism and unfinished wish lists, while absorbing the overwhelming truth that the men and women dying matched them in age and interests. The culture of partying paralleled that of frequent funeral attendances and as treatment after treatment failed, handovers were peppered with euphemisms and dark humour about the arrival of planet clinitron and the fluidisation bed man who could demonstrate hardness at the flick of a switch.

> The culture of partying paralleled that of frequent funeral attendances

The mask of professionalism extended to the Portuguese cleaner who would sob quietly out of sight in the sluice when one of her lovely boys died.


It was, however, the arrival of a little girl whose father had exhausted treatment options that caused many of our brittle masks to disintegrate. Fabio, a former IV drug user, was admitted in the late spring, and his young wife, Giada, was constant at his bedside in the darkened side room. She arrived each evening clutching the hand of their six\-year\-old daughter Dominica, who skipped in to see her papa, eager to share the minutiae of her school day, but her father, now cachexic, weak and irritable would impatiently snap at her, so she lingered nervously at the door.

> Dominica skipped in to see her papa, eager to share the minutiae of her school day

The nurses, noticing her crestfallen face, cleared a little space at their desk and found her colouring books and crayons, while her mother remained in the side room, curled up in an embrace around her partner, her total focus on him. As the spring turned into summer, Dominica would return each evening, and briefly tiptoe into the darkened side room with its whirring fan, and say hello to papa, before resuming her place at the nurses station.

> The nurses cleared their desk and found Dominica colouring books and crayons

A little box of activities and games had appeared, and this had extended to a cut\-down nurses uniform and even in the bustle of the evening, everyone would acknowledge and give Dominica a little attention.


As time went on, and her father became less and less responsive, she became more timid of the darkened room, until one evening she put down her crayon, and earnestly asked Mo, one of her favourite nurses: What is dying like? Does it hurt? No, Mo explained. Its just like blowing out a candle. Remember how one minute its there, and then you take a tiny little blow, and its not there anymore. Thats all it is.

Dominica picked up her crayon, resumed her colouring, and said wistfully: My birthday cake had candles

> What is dying like? Does it hurt?

It was Mo, who persuaded Giada, very gently, that Dominica was too young to join her in a vigil next to her fathers body, and took her up to a bed in the childrens ward, and tucked her in with a story, and a promise to come back in the morning to take her back to her mama. After the funeral, when Giada brought her to the ward, Dominica, a tiny figure in a tailored black coat and shiny black shoes, said goodbye to the nurses through tearful bear hugs.


As they walked away hand in hand, I wondered whether it was leaving a familiar place where staff had been kind and given her time and attention, that had been more of a wrench, than the slow inexorable death of a father who may have had little time for her in his lifetime. I hoped that now the two of them could build a new life and future.

> What would make the death of a parent a good death?

If she had any memories of her fathers death, would it be the people who had made a fuss of her, or the darkened side room and her sobbing mother? What would make the death of a parent, when you are six years old, a good death? The only thing that we could offer was the kindness, love and attention of the nursing staff. And we had given that, but it still hurt to watch her walk away.


Our runner up for this year's BMA writing competition is Penny Ballinger, a medically qualified advanced nurse practitioner from Gloucestershire. [Find out more about this year's competition and read more entries.](\-competition)

**Credits** **Author:** Penny Ballinger **Content editor:** Neil Hallows **Digital producer:** Sarah Quinlan **Production editor:** Chris Patterson **Senior designer:** Tim Grant **Senior digital producer:** Karen Lobban **Senior production editor:** Kelly Spring **Title illustration:** Daniel Burgess



Tragedy and kindness go hand in hand, written by medically qualified advanced nurse practitioner Penny Ballinger


Highly commended entries

Read all the highly commended entries for this years' competition.

Writing competition; highly commended (entry 171)

Through death, students learn about life, written by Kevin Beatson


Writing competition; highly commended (entry 168)

Making the best use of the time we have left, written by ST3 in paediatrics Sara Homer


Writing competition; highly commended (entry 127)

The sirens were for you, written by ST6 in anaesthetics Ping Chen


Writing comp 2016 illustration highly commended (entry 155) 16x9.jpg

Death warmed up, written by ST4 in emergency medicine Anjali Harrison


  • 2016 writing competition details

    A good death?

    Writing Competition Online Bowie_16-9

    Not many of us can live like David Bowie, but could we die like him?

    It seems strange that a death from cancer could be described by one of his closest friends as a 'work of art'. But it was said in wonder at how a man so very famous could die a private death, just after adding to his artistic legacy.

    Few of us need worry that our death will be a world news event, but we too desire some control over our passing.

    All doctors must have seen a 'good death', even if they wouldn't describe it that way. A death that seemed right and fitting, that the patient chose or at least influenced, and that the best care made possible. And they've definitely seen a bad one too.

    As the BMA conducts a major piece of work into end-of-life care we asked you to tell us about a death that touched you, for better or worse. We wanted to know what was special about the patient and the care they received, and about your interactions with them and their families.

    Was theirs a death fit for a hero?

    Follow #writeBMA on Twitter

  • Terms and conditions

    1. Entry is open to all BMA members.
    2. BMA employees or employees of companies sponsoring prizes are not eligible to enter. No purchase necessary.
    3. There is no cash alternative to the prizes offered.
    4. The editor's decision is final. No correspondence will be entered into.
    5. Entries must be received by Monday 4 April 2016 before 5pm (BST).
    6. We plan to publish the winners' names and home towns. If you wish to request that we do not, please include this as part of your entry.
    7. By entering, authors are agreeing that their entries may be published on, in BMA News and on the BMA's social media channels.