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The Edge of Life

If you still haven’t watched any documentary by Louis Theroux – you should. Make up for it, immediately! In his documentary “The Edge of Life” we follow Louis in LA where he visits most famous hospital, the Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre in West Hollywood, checking on patients battling most serious illnesses. 

America spends billions of dollars on health care and a lump sum goes on end of life care, with a wide and expensive array of treatments on offer to those with insurance or who qualify for government funded programmes. Louis talks to patients and their families as they face some of the toughest decisions imaginable – whether to accept death and die in relative comfort, or to gamble on further, possibly painful treatment in the hope that it will cure them or prolong their life. Louis also talks to the doctors whose job it is to guide people through this traumatic process. Over several months Louis investigates the American ‘way of dying’, which often involves never giving up and keeping faith right to the end.

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While there, he comes across a 22-year-old patient called Langston Jackson, who was in a coma. The medical team were convinced Langston would never wake up, as a result of severe brain damage. But miraculously, Langston overcomes these odds. 37 days later and in the face of overwhelming odds of a million to one, the college athlete wakes up.

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The second patient depicted in the film is Havier battling Acute Myeloid Leukemia(AML) with the story of 4 remissions, strongly supported by his girlfriend whose love and affection clearly make a difference. There is a scene in the film when Havier describes his cancer as: ‘fire in the blood’.  Feeling the inevitability of fate Havier gets married to his girlfriend on hospital bed with the ‘marriage life’ lasting barely 3 days. The words pronounced “Adriana – I give you my hand and my heart- as I join my life to yours- with this ring I thee wed” certify difficult, beautiful and extreme love.

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The third patient - Dontay came to LA with dreams of making it as a public entertainer but at his young age of 31 was diagnosed with ravenous colorectal cancer. With no health insurance, he qualified for public assistance. Louis while talking to Dontay, says” You’ve basically been residing in the hospital for about 150 days” to which Dontay responds: “For the money spent, which definitely counts in millions, I could buy two houses and maybe move to London and have a chateau...” 

Unfortunately, Dontay’s story ends in weeks, despite momentous efforts of his doctors’ team. The memorable scene of saying ‘good-bye’ to Dontay by the caring staff is one to remember. On finalising all possibilities of hospital care Dontay is directed to a hospice. “We’ll still be here checking on you and taking care of you- that hasn’t changed” – says the Dontay’s doctor – Doctor Gould.

“God is with you… give it to God…they talked it out, they looked at everything… all those minds together, because everyone so cares about you and loves you “- says the nurse.



Piotr Flieger
Department of Foreign Languages
photo: from documentary “The Edge of Life”

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