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Paul Buchanan’s obituary for Rosamund Snow

Some people are born into the world to enrich it. To give more than they could ever take. To bring to others a rare glimpse into a future we could all help achieve if we had the wit, resolve, humility, compassion, and the love, which Rosamund brought to everything she did and everyone she touched.
Such a beautiful soul carried with it a burden. Rosamund was made of such depths of compassion for others, coupled with a fierce will to do better—to be better—and to help others see the path that leads us all to care more for others than we do ourselves. It’s a double edged sword in so many ways, as the counter to such a depth of passion was the burden of huge self-doubt, the worry that you’re not being listened to, that you’re not making a difference, and a constant questioning of your own worth.

Rosamund wrestled with her own demons, living well with a “hidden disease,” and she did live well with it. Type 1 diabetes was not only her condition, it was her passion. Her depression was by far the more difficult condition to live with. Rosamund was determined that we could do better in serving the needs of people living with illness. Her insights were born out of experience coupled with a superb and insightful mind, and an ability to really listen to and hear the pain and unspoken stories of others. Guided by her own journey with depression and her firsthand knowledge of living with a lifelong condition, she knew intuitively how to speak to, understand, and provide a source of comfort, warmth, joy, and respect to others who lived with illness.

Uniquely, Rosamund combined her diabetes and her PhD to become the first person to gain a doctorate through research into her own condition. She was a genuine polymath, although to be described by anything that has the word “math” in it will undoubtedly have her screaming profanities at me right now! Her interests, skills, and accomplishments covered so many areas: she was a skilled musician, photographer, historian, feminist, and linguist—once advising Tessa Richards on the appropriate greeting to use when speaking to a Latvian—not to forget her recent excursions into amateur taxidermy.

She also had a real interest in embedding “tech” into the human body, quantifying the self, like her experiments with implanting magnets under her skin—surprising given how she most definitely didn’t want an insulin pump attached to her.

Wherever she went she made an impression—you didn’t forget meeting Rosamund—and if you were lucky enough to catch her attention and she made a friend of you, you were indeed truly blessed.

Unsurprisingly, the thoughts and comments of her circle of friends and professional colleagues run along similar lines:

“Engaging, interesting, and insightful; generous with her experiences but also feisty and challenging—I thought this was a fabulous combination!” Sally Crowe, who Rosamund researched and published with.

“We discussed and developed ideas together, sometimes agreeing, sometimes not. She often likened our approach to being ‘good cop, bad cop.’ I as the bad cop took a line, and she as the good one found a way to work with editors to make it happen.” Tessa Richards, senior editor/patient partnership, The BMJ

“When I first met Rosamund at a patient involvement meeting at Oxford Medical School, I remember thinking, ‘Wow, she is really making things shift here, she is so articulate and powerful in her approach! I want to be like her!’ A few years later, we ended up at the same event, chose to sit together with another patient leader, and took great delight in being the self-confessed naughty table—challenging the room and [being] positively disrupting! Her care and support for us as fellow patient leaders was second to none, while she was in such suffering herself. Everything she did had a positive impact that won’t be forgotten.” Anya de longh

“Rosamund filled, brilliantly, an exquisitely important role in The BMJ‘s pioneering patient partnership. I’ve often said that the type 1 PWD is the archetypical engaged patient: s/he can’t survive without embodying patient involvement. Rosamund’s self-awareness, and her knowledge of both her disease and our cultural context, let her express the role of the patient in health and in the system with a keener eye and finer nuance than anyone else I know.” e-Patient Dave (aka Dave deBronkart)

As for her legacy, Rosamund can rest easy; her family and friends can take comfort in knowing that her work has had, and will continue to have, a lasting impact. She has inspired countless others to do better, to be better, and to think more deeply about how we can all make the world a little bit of a better place.

Rosamund, you made me look more closely and think more deeply. For that, for your friendship, and for you, I will always be grateful.

Written by Paul Buchanan, a patient with type 1 diabetes. He runs Team Blood Glucose. He is part of The BMJ‘s patient panel.


This Coldest Day – testimony for a kind soul

February 12, 2017, written by David Gilbert

Dear Rosamund

I wasn’t a close friend. But close enough, I hope, to say a few things. I was going to write a poem, but you hated verse.

You didn’t get to live this coldest day of the year. I went for a walk. The guy in the car park was full of hacking cough and phlegm as he pulled on his gloves. The parakeets were making a bee line above the straight path to the field where the daffodil bulbs lie waiting. I was wondering why the joggers bothered. Why folk go on. Why they don’t.

You beat me to the most brilliant job at the BMJ. I’m so glad you did. We met at the UCLH café afterwards and in an hour I felt I knew you. I think we were (The past tense arrives with quickening gloom) quite similar – born activists and ambivalent towards academia (loving its territories of investigation and curiosity, hating its straight lines and dictats). And you made that job your own and were absolutely the right person at the right time. You were revolutionising that arena. And were beginning to reach deeper and broader.

What happened? There is that self-indulgent curiosity. I’m not sure why it matters. You’re gone.

You didn’t like poetry. We teased each other across social media. We both had cats and swapped pictures. Yours is a big furry male beauty. Mine a wimpish tabby. But you thought she was gorgeous. There is that heart again.

And here in the warm café, I am looking for an ‘organising principle’ – a theme for what I am trying to say. That is what I have been taught to do in poetry, in work, in life. But my family is away and my days have been loosened. I write what I write for a change. We go wherever we go – sometimes things happen without explanation. This blog. Your act.

During the junior doctors dispute, we both got crazed by the belligerence of both sides and the toxic nature of the debate – what happens when two sets of people set up and go tooth for tooth, claw for claw. We spied a different space and a potential solution – bring patients in. And we worked bloody hard to get a co-signed letter in the BMJ to all parties, pleading for dialogue and inclusivity. That spirit. That energy. That tenacity. That sheer bloody mindedness.

Is that what drove you in the end? Speculation. Speculation. It really doesn’t help. You, who also needed evidence. Us too. Left without.

You do need to know that you have left a deep legacy amongst us fellow ‘patient leaders’ – a term you had some problems with (we all do – even those that invented it!). But you deeply got it – that people who have had life-changing illness, injury or disability can help change healthcare. Indeed we may be the ones who will.

You deeply moved those of us who hung on to your wonderful edited articles in the BMJ. Generous. Kind. Thoughtful. Insightful. Bla bla. Words. Good ones. But mere words.

And you inspired me more than I was able to say (NOTE to readers – go now tell someone how great they are – life is utterly short).

I do what I do, only because of fellow travellers like you. We are left in a more vulnerable place. I have talked to two people who didn’t know you well, but feel that we need more than ever to support each other, to create those loose ties across the diaspora of the marginalised in these difficult times – that your death has made us even more aware of the need to connect.

I think you would have liked my parable ‘The Jewel Merchants’. I wish I could have seen your face when reading it. I wish I could have seen you at our recent event with thirty or so amazing patient leaders – you would have shone with pride at the people there. The gathering of folk ready to change healthcare forever. We will go on, with your blessings in our mind and heart. Corny? You bet.

Your laugh was intemperate and your humour acerbic and infectious. You tapped into my dark side at times, and I loved that. But. But. But.

Maybe it’s as Joni Mitchell said: ‘All we ever wanted is to come in from the cold’. I hope you are warmer now. I am agnostic, weave between religious thoughts and secular ones. But mostly they come down to the only thing I know any more – let’s be kind to each other. You were so kind. I am going to miss you.

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