Kate Granger, painted by Antonia Rolls for the A Graceful Death exhibition.

Kate Granger, painted by Antonia Rolls for the A Graceful Death exhibition.

Dr Kate Granger was bemused when people told her (as they often did) that she was inspirational.   She described herself in typically down-to-earth fashion as “Just a Yorkshire lass trying to deal with a horrible situation in the most positive way I can manage”.

Kate, who has died of cancer aged 34, used her experiences as doctor-cum-patient to make a difference to the service she worked in.  A consultant in geriatric medicine, she wanted to leave as her legacy a better NHS which, in her words, “considers patients as people not just diseases or conditions”.   She found a means of achieving this through her hugely successful #hellomynameis campaign, encouraging and reminding all healthcare professionals to introduce themselves to their patients.

Deceptively simple as an idea, the principle behind the campaign was – as Kate well knew – much deeper and far more important than a mere courtesy.  “It is about human connections, establishing therapeutic relationships and building trust,” she said.

As I write this, the #hellomynameis hashtag is trending on Twitter; before Kate died it had racked up over one billion impressions.  In the three years since its launch #hellomynameis has helped power the drive for more personalised, compassionate care, gaining support from over 400,000 healthcare workers and over 100 healthcare organisations.  Its influence now extends beyond the UK, with offshoot campaigns in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the US and Australia.

In a sign of the campaign’s impact, one of the first acts of the new Prime Minister last week was to write to Kate Granger to thank her for her contribution to the NHS.  She began her letter, “Dear Kate, My name is Theresa and I took over from David Cameron … “

I think it’s fair to say that Kate’s campaign has made a positive difference to the way healthcare is delivered, in this country and elsewhere.  Yet that is just the half of it.  Following her diagnosis, Kate and her husband Chris also set out to raise £250,000 for Yorkshire Cancer Centre through various fundraising events including a sky dive, a 10K run and a 13 mile trek.  Just three days before she died, Kate heard that they’d succeeded.  I wonder if she was waiting to smash the target before letting go – from what I’ve heard of this remarkable woman I wouldn’t put it past her.

Eight weeks ago, in an interview with the Daily Telegraph, Kate said, “If I dropped dead tomorrow, I wouldn’t be unhappy with the life I’ve managed to achieve in the last five years.  I’ve managed to create some amazing legacies. All doctors want to leave their mark, and I think I’ve managed to do that”.

She certainly has.  Kate’s strength lay in her ability to be both ordinary and extraordinary.  I first encountered her in a film made by Dying Matters, a coalition of organisations designed to promote more open discussion of dying, death and bereavement, in which Kate and her husband Chris spoke openly about her terminal diagnosis, her plans for dying – she said she’d like to die to Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending – her hopes and fears.

Kate set up another hashtag #deathbedlive to use when the time came, and use it she did right up until a few days ago when she tweeted an apology for “the distinct lack of #deathbedlive tweets. I’ve not had the energy … I’m so grateful for everyone’s support, messages & presents. TY x”.

The picture at the top of this blog is by Antonia Rolls and was commissioned as part of her exhibition and project “A Graceful Death” which explores – through portraits, paintings and words – what it is to die.  Antonia told me that it shows Kate, in her own words, sitting on her sofa smiling and looking like the girl next door.

Kate Granger helped make the unspeakable, speakable; she encouraged others to talk about things they found hard to put into words. She was a doctor as interested in the people for whom she was caring as their conditions. In this, she wasn’t unique.  But her perspective as both doctor and terminally ill patient, combined with her determination, humility, humanity, honesty and kindness made her one of a very special kind.  She will be sorely missed, not least by her soulmate Chris Pointon.

After watching the Dying Matters film, I wrote in a blog that the bond between Kate and Chris was tangible and that there was something almost unbearably tender about the way he always seemed to have an arm around his wife as if to protect her.  “He can’t save her from cancer,” I wrote.  “But he can – and I’ve no doubt he will – ensure that her wishes are followed when the time comes”.

And now it has.

In one of her many quite brilliant blogs about being a terminally ill doctor, Kate mused on the notion of having an “expiry date”.

“So having a likely expiry date is a strange place to be aged 31.  It clearly has its downsides with emotional turmoil and disappointment, but there is a silver lining too if you look hard enough”.

She quoted a poem of Canon Henry Scott-Holland:

“Death is nothing at all
I have only slipped away into the next room
I am I and you are you
Whatever we were to each other
That we still are”.

It is a haunting yet steadfastly no-nonsense poem with a refreshing clarity of purpose and rhythm.  I never met Kate; I wish I had.  She’s gone now, slipped away, but her legacy lives on.