Lives of the fellows

Miriam Claire Chellingsworth

b.9 August 1956 d.5 March 2011
BM Southampton(1979) MRCP(1982) DM(1993) FRCP (1996)

Miriam Chellingsworth was a consultant physician in elderly care in Staffordshire. She was born in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, the eldest of three children of Horace Thomas Chellingsworth, a paint technologist, and Audrey Miriam Chellingsworth, a housewife. She voiced her ambition to become a doctor early on, at primary school. She went on to North Bromsgrove High School, where she showed much academic promise and would not be dissuaded by the careers advisers from her wish to become a doctor. She gained entry to Southampton University Medical School, where she graduated with honours and a distinction in clinical medicine in June 1979. Her plan was to specialise in paediatrics, but she was diagnosed as having multiple sclerosis and was advised to consider epidemiology instead. However, she wished to work closely with patients and chose geriatrics.

Her junior posts were at Southampton and Northampton General Hospital (from 1979 to 1982). She then moved to Birmingham and was a registrar, from 1982 to 1984, at the Queen Elizabeth and Selly Oak hospitals. She did research work between 1984 and 1987, and was then a senior registrar in geriatrics and general medicine on the West Midlands training scheme.

She was appointed as a consultant physician in general and elderly care medicine to Mid Staffordshire General Hospital NHS Trust in 1992. She worked there for four years. She had a positive attitude and worked tirelessly to improve care of older people despite her increasing disability. A senior surgeon at the Trust states: ‘the most bewitching part of her character was a very cheeky grin which she used when she knew she had said or done something which was usually good for her patient but which she suspected would be disliked by others. She would tell you the story in such a way as to beguile, then give a grin, turn on her heel and limp off as she did at that stage with the debility of her MS’. This was typical of Miriam’s impish (almost girlish) sense of fun.

Miriam published on multiple sclerosis, in particular drawing attention to bowel symptoms in the condition. She first noticed this, in her own case, as a medical student in 1976. Her other area of interest was pharmacology, in particular drugs in the elderly and the renal effects of calcium antagonists. She was a member of Royal College of Physicians’ working party which looked into the experience of disabled people using hospitals. The report was published in 1998 (Disabled people using hospitals: a charter and guidelines, London, Royal College of Physicians).

Despite her disability, Miriam was intent on living as normal a life as possible. I remember going to a dinner party at her house one evening when she was trying out some new recipes. She regarded this as great fun. Although she was a little weak, she refused to accept help to lift heavy kitchen utensils and insisted on setting up the dining room herself, including moving chairs, such was her intent to be seen to behave normally.

She retired in 1996 and, because of her condition, conceded to advice and decided to move into a nursing home. She tried several, but none was suitable for a highly independent spirit like her. She set about the conversion of a bungalow for her needs and arranged the necessary care.

During her last 10 years, through her own distinct determination, she maintained a quality of life, despite having to arrange her own care and medical needs, which was a full-time job. She developed a keen interest in archaeology and the church. She enjoyed attending her 30-year class graduation reunion in Winchester in 2009.

She was survived by her mother and brothers Mark and Cris. Her estate is to be used to fund the education and well-being of children in Zimbabwe.

J E Elizabeth

(Volume XII, page web)

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