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Logo of brjgenpracRCGP homepageJ R Coll Gen Pract at PubMed CentralBJGP at RCGPBJGP at RCGP
Br J Gen Pract. 2008 June 1; 58(551): 448–449.
PMCID: PMC2419016

Top Tips in 2 minutes

‘Wanne mine eyhen misten and mine heren sissen and mi most koldet and my tunge ffoldet and mi rude slaket …’

(‘When my eye mists and my hearing fails and my nose goes cold and my tongue curls back and my face falls in’… ).1 Identification of impending death was important to medieval man. The sacrament of extreme unction had to be administered by the priest to ensure passage into purgatory, but recovery after mistaken administration condemned the patient to a penitential life, free from meat and sex (not surprisingly, the sick often delayed sending for the priest).

What we expect from the end of our lives, is a window into the world of how we view our lives. Beowulf, son of Ecgtheow, Lord of the Geats, slaughterer of the Dragon Grinwald2 uses his dying moments to lament that he does not have a son (a lament surely as old as time):

‘Now is the time when I would have wanted to bestow this armour on my own son’

Though other aspects of his life were different:

‘Because of my right ways, the Ruler of mankind need never blame me when the breath leaves my body for murder of kinsmen.’

Perhaps the most interesting thing about our top tip on ‘End-of-life emergencies’ is how hard it was to find a good resource for the patient on dying. Given the fact that death, like birth is an inevitable and universal experience, what does that say about us?

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Top Tips in 2 minutes: Emergencies at the end of life.


1. Jupp PC, Gittings C. Death in England: an illustrated history. Manchester: Manchester University Press; 1999.
2. Heaney S. Beowulf. London: Faber & Faber; 1999.

Articles from The British Journal of General Practice are provided here courtesy of Royal College of General Practitioners