Death by misrepresentation

The R7 repeats of The News Quiz reminded me today that opiates suppress breathing. And that in turn reminded me of the last days of Dylan Thomas.

The authors of Dylan Remembered 1935–1953 (and the BBC Website) suggest that his doctor, believing in his claims of having recently chewed his way through “18 straight whiskies; I think it’s a record”, gave him at least one dose of morphine for his “suffocating” hallucinations (later, much later, diagnosed as pneumonia). Thomas fell unconscious, and his fatty liver complicated all attempts to keep his poor, battered body going under the influence of alcohol and that dampening, drowning opiate; four days later he was dead.

Some might find this bungling ending far less romantic than the previous received opinion. But Thomas’ myth still has it all: tragedy, irony, the disbelief in the artist’s interpretation, and the cold clinical hand of pharmaceuticals hastening the end. And if it’s true that drink didn’t kill him, then he died instead by his own words.

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