Sir Terry Pratchett’s death is a terrible loss. Not only to the millions of Discworld fans around the world but, perhaps more importantly, to the nursing community and those who are part of the fight against dementia.
I began reading the Discworld series when I was much younger, between careers, working minimum wage jobs and looking after my son.
Money was tight and I couldn’t see an end to the hardships life was throwing at me.
At first, the books simply made me laugh! Curling up in bed with a Terry Pratchett was the highlight of my day. I admired Pratchett’s ability to unravel our reality and put it back together on his terms. The Discworld is a remarkable, if not satirically ironic, reflection of our own world.
“Curling up in bed with a Terry Pratchett was the highlight of my day”
But slowly I started to gain something else from the series. I began to understand what it means to be the author of your own life.
At this point I changed career. I became a community care auxiliary.
I quickly realised that this was what I was looking for and became particularly interested in mental health.
Within a few years I swapped my role for one in a dementia unit. I loved my job and my patients, but felt their needs were often ignored, especially emotionally.
The Discworld began to take on a new meaning; I could see that my patients were effectively living in fictional worlds of their own creation. It struck me that actually, this is no different to being a fiction writer and I began to let myself become immersed with them.
Going to work became a joy!
“I could see that my patients were effectively living in fictional worlds of their own creation”
My patients shared their lives and experiences with me in unique ways and I felt honoured to have been part of their experiences and proud that I could relieve some of the loneliness and the isolation that is associated with dementia.
Over the years, Terry Pratchett’s writing taught me another lesson:
“LISTEN”, said Death (who always speaks in capital letters). “FAIR DOESN’T COME INTO IT. YOU CAN’T TAKE SIDES.GOOD GRIEF. WHEN IT’S TIME, IT’S TIME. THAT’S ALL THERE IS TO IT.” (Mort, 1997)
The patients I knew and loved, even though I had to become friends with them afresh every day, passed away.
This was always difficult for me but I was reminded, as I am now, that death is not the evil. Death is impartial. Death comes to everyone and death is compassionate. Death gives an end to suffering.
“I was devastated, associating my experiences on the ward with what Terry would ultimately face”
When Sir Terry Pratchett was diagnosed with PCA (Posterior Cortical Atrophy) I was devastated, associating my experiences on the ward with what Terry would ultimately face.
But Terry had one more gift for me; he fought.
He fought fiercely to advocate for those with dementia, he fought for their right to be heard, their right to dignity and for their right to die peacefully.
I was inspired by his bravery, realising that a good fantasy author isn’t about making things up, but about perspective, giving the same mundane reality a fresh coat of paint, making lemonade when life gives you lemons!
Seeing the world differently and not being scared to live differently.
I am now coming to the end of my final year of a BSc (Hons) in adult nursing, I am working towards the publication of my dissertation and I want to go on to complete a masters.
“I have carved a future for myself and my children following the example of my one role-model, Sir Terry Pratchett”
I have got here from nowhere; as a teenager I didn’t even complete my A-Levels. I have carved a future for myself and my children following the example of my one role-model, Sir Terry Pratchett.
I write today because I feel that his family and friends need to know that the nursing world grieves with them, for the loss of a powerful, ferocious advocate and a man who understood our professional burden.
I also want to thank Terry for giving me courage and inspiration and my favourite piece of nursing advice: “If you pick it, it will bleed”.
Katrina Sealey is a third year student nurse studying at Kingston University, London