Medical Humanities

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Death Memoirs: Chronophobia, the Terminal Body, and the Search for Temporal Control

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Death Memoirs: Chronophobia, the Terminal Body, and the Search for Temporal Control
 
Michelle Chiang
 

“Would I be surprised if this patient died in the next 12 months?” This is the Surprise Question which is used in the UK and US to identify terminally ill patients who might benefit from palliative care services. Studies on its accuracy often reported modest to poor performance, and the search for better assessment tools is ongoing. The difficulty to accurately predict or obtain an accurate predic-tion from medical experts about when one’s end would arrive as the body fails, contributes to the titular term of this project ‘Chronophobia’ or the fear of passing time and the future. By exploring end-of-life memoirs written in the perspectives of patients and their caregivers, the research (a) shines a spotlight on the centrality of time perception in the experience of terminal illnesses, and (b) proposes that a key therapeutic benefit of writing is the sense of temporal control, which patients and their loved ones could derive from the process of re-ordering and re-living a life narrative in the face of an unpredictable and impending end.