Talk Code: 
Deborah Swinglehurst
Author institutions: 
Queen Mary University London

I was inspired to write this poem an example of the role of ‘witness to suffering’ that Iona Heath sets out in her wonderful paper “The Mystery of General Practice”.   This consultation was mostly about Brian witnessing the suffering of his dying wife and the importance to him of being available and by her side in her last days, however exhausting. He was perplexed and frustrated at his own limits, and fearful of the future.    But this consultation was also about me in my role as witness to Brian’s suffering, and my parallel sense of perplexity and frustration at my own limits. My key resource – communication – was not available to me in the usual way. And I acknowledge a sense of guilt that I am no longer practising as a GP 24/7 like I used to.   I felt an awkward dissonance between the silent solemnity in the room and the vivacious, expansive gestures of the sign language interpreter, who was at the same time both behind me (and visible only out of the corner of my eye) and between us (as a mediator of communication) as we all struggled through the consultation together, improvising to the best of our ability.   The encounter prompted me to consider what it must be like to live a life in the silence of deafness, especially at times when life is creating so much emotional noise and turmoil…and what it must be like inviting an interpreter into some of life’s most intimate moments.