One Last Day

We are sharing a very personal story sent to us by a reader living in Goonellabah. Staff member Janet Grist visited Dr Philip West to talk about his moving recollection of his wife Michelle’s final day.

Dr West said that a lot of people don’t realise that terrible things can happen suddenly on any day,

“And when they do happen, they come as an incredible shock and that’s what stands out for you. Your wife is fine in the morning and dead in the afternoon.

“In my case, Michelle lost consciousness so quickly that there was no time to do anything and I could not communicate in any way with her about what was happening. Had she remained conscious, at least for a little while, we could have talked to each other a bit; that would have made a big difference for me and perhaps for her too.”

Dr West went on to say he feels that it is important to talk about death and share your feelings about how much you value the person closest to you.

“I still sit back and think Michelle and I should have talked more about these things. It’s not till your wife is gone that you appreciate how much she meant to you, more than you had realised before. When she’s not there you start to understand just how much you did rely on each other.”

It started out as a normal Saturday morning. We had gone shopping. She bought a gift voucher for her daughter’s partner whose birthday was coming up. I left my boots with the cobbler to have a new set of heels. At the baker’s she bought a party pie for morning tea and I chose a sausage roll. A little before ten o’clock we were home again. We made our coffee and sat out on the balcony in a patch of winter sun to eat our bakery delights. I went off to check my emails and she to start preparing lunch.

Just before half past ten I heard her call out my name. I found her collapsed on the bed, obviously in some distress. It’s her stomach again, I thought. It often gave her trouble, but I was sure it would be better by lunch time as it always had been in the past. But, after a minute or so, I could see it was more than that. She was clutching her head and said, “Cold”. I got her a wet towel to cool it. She started to retch and said, “Bucket”. I got her that to throw up in. Now I could see it was something serious and I dialled the emergency number.

All the ambulances in our town were ‘busy’, the operator said, and it would have to come from the next town, some 30 km away. “Is the patient still breathing?” the operator asked. “Yes”, I said. “Ask her where the pain is now”, the operator said. I put the phone down and went to ask. “She can’t seem to hear me”, I said when I came back. Forty minutes it took the ambulance to reach us. That was a long, long time and I could only sit there beside her as she held her head and couldn’t seem to hear me or speak to me at all.

The para-medics knew their business. Within ten minutes they were ready to take her to the hospital. But their trolley was too large to get into the bedroom and so they rang for help to carry her out. Another ambulance arrived, this time within a few minutes, followed by a fire truck from the local fire station with six firemen ‒ more than enough help. The ambulance took her off and I hurried together a bag of clothing and toiletries that I knew she was going to need. I drove myself to the hospital.

“Do you realise how ill your wife is?” asked the nurse who let me in to the emergency ward. I didn’t, of course. And there she was, lying on a bed with various tubes coming out of her. Soon they took her off for a ‘scan’. I spent the next hour in the waiting room, waiting.

The doctor who had been attending her spoke to me when they wheeled her back. It was a massive stroke, he said. The surgeon specialists had said that nothing could be done and that, if she survived, she would have virtually no conscious brain function left. And so, just after half past five that afternoon, she died as I and one of our friends sat beside her bed in the hospital ward. I think she had known and felt nothing after about an hour from the onset of the stroke.

I’ve always been a realist and I know that these things happen. It’s not been six months yet and no doubt time will do its work and it will get better for me. But, for now, she occupies my mind every waking hour. It wasn’t quite like that before. I’d often spend the day on work or some project or other and think of her only when our paths crossed from time to time during the day.

Two things I’ve had to live with most of all. The first is that it was so totally and utterly unexpected. What had started out as a normal Saturday morning, with a normal healthy wife, ended up as a complete disaster. And secondly, after 34 years of marriage, there had been no chance to say any sort of goodbye or to give her even a little comfort by holding her hand. It will always be with me that her last two words to me were nothing more than “Cold” and “Bucket”.

In her retirement she had been studying Latin. Her text books and exercise books were lying open on her desk where she had been last using them. I bit the bullet a little while ago and tidied them away. But I left her text book open at the spot she had left off, so it would be ready for her when she comes back ‒ pathetic I know, but I felt better for it.

If this story has brought up difficult feelings for you, please get in touch with one of these organisations:

  • Lifeline on 13 11 14
  • Beyond Blue on 1300 24 636
  • MensLine Australia on 1300 789 987

Update provided 21 April 2022.

As you know, Lismore Skin Clinic in Molesworth Street was destroyed in the recent floods, and we are trying to rebuild the site as soon as we can.

In the meantime we will be moving to St Vincent’s Hospital Specialist Medical Centre – Level 4, Suite 12 – 20 Dalley Street Lismore.

We hope to be up and running in the next two weeks (by early to mid May 2022) and our receptionists will soon begin calling our patients to rebook their appointments and catch up with their needs.

Once we have a firm opening date we will update this notification.

Our email address – [email protected] and our phone number – 02 6621 3500 will remain the same as in the past. Only the address changes for a while.

We look forward to seeing you soon in our new premises.

Many thanks for your patience and understanding in these heartbreaking times – stay safe.

Dr Gudmundsen and the Team from Lismore Skin Clinic


Contact our Education Team

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Nigel Cronin
Senior Manager, Education
[email protected]
0437 169 786
02 6627 3390
Based on Bundjalung Country in Lismore

Bronwyn Thirkell
Centre for Healthcare Knowledge & Innovation and Education and Events Coordinator NNSW
[email protected]
0437 027 751
02 6618 5445
Based on Bundjalung Country in Ballina

Krissi Devlin
Education and Events Coordinator MNC
[email protected]
0447 407 473
02 6659 1808
Working days: Monday Thursday.
Based on Gumbaynggirr Country in Coffs Harbour

Mental Health Practitioner Directory

Frequently Asked Questions

Any AHPRA or AASW registered mental health practitioner providing services in the Mid North Coast and/or Northern NSW.

Social workers, psychotherapists and counsellors are ineligible to list in the directory.

By listing, you will let GPs, other referrers and consumers know that you are practising in Mid North Coast and/or Northern NSW. You can provide information such as where you are located, the services you provide, the population groups you support and your clinical interests.

No, the directory is a free service provided by Healthy North Coast.

This directory enables you to provide real-time information about your availability to accept referrals, as well as how long people may have to wait for an appointment. You can update this information as your availability changes. This will help GPs and other referrers ensure they only refer clients to practitioners who have the capacity to see them.

It also has a range of advanced search options and supports printing and bookmarking of search results.

You can choose to display your email address and your phone number so that people can contact you directly. You may prefer not to display these, in which case people can contact you by completing an enquiry form located in the Directory. Your choices can be updated anytime.

You can indicate wait times for an appointment for a new client or that you are currently unable to accept new referrals. You can also choose whether to display or hide your contact details. You can update your choices at any time.

Yes, you can update your listing or remove it at any time by clicking the “update practitioner details” button on your listing. You will receive a secure website link to your nominated admin email that will enable you to make changes, delete or put your listing on hold. You can also show when you are taking extended leave or are not available for a specific period, rather than completely removing your listing.

We will also send you an email every three months (90 days) prompting you to check that your information is up to date.

You will be responsible for managing the information in your listing and ensuring that it is up to date. You will also be asked to check the information before it is published in the directory.

We will also send you an email every three months (90 days) prompting you to check that your information is up to date so that the directory displays accurate information.

You can read the full Terms of Use by clicking here.