Last updated: 06 November 2008
The death of Dylan Thomas has proved to be just as fascinating - and controversial - as much of his life.
On his final trip to New York, Dylan Thomas checked into the Chelsea Hotel. He was already referring to Caitlin as 'my widow'.
While his cumulative intake of alcohol undoubtedly irreparably damaged his health, it's been disputed that it was the actual cause of his death. There is a growing body of evidence to suggest his death was actually accelerated by medical negligence.
When Dylan Thomas returned to the Chelsea Hotel and boasted of drinking "18 straight whiskies", he was in all probability exaggerating. Boasting about his alcoholic intake was nothing new. However, his sustained drinking undoubtedly caused him a number of health complications.
Dylan slept off the whisky until the next morning, 4 November. He awoke complaining of breathing difficulties, and went with Elizabeth Reitell to a bar. After two beers he returned to the Chelsea Hotel, still complaining of illness, and his doctor Milton Feltenstein was called for.
The doctor administered some ACTH, a steroid, before leaving, but Thomas was still in pain from gastritis and gout. Feltenstein returned and gave the poet more medication.
Thomas slept again, but it was fitful and he complained of visions and delirium. Feltenstein was summoned for a third time and gave Thomas a sedative.
According to hospital records, the sedative was half a grain of morphine sulphate; an abnormally high dose, and potentially lethal given the poet's breathing complications. It was also extremely unusual to administer such a drug to alleviate his gastritis and gout.
Feltenstein again left the hotel, leaving Thomas with Reitell. She was joined by a painter, Jack Heliker, who observed the poet speaking of abstract hallucinations. According to Heliker, Dylan Thomas' final words were: "After 39 years, this is all I've done".
After about an hour, Dylan fell unconscious. An ambulance arrived, and took him to St Vincent's Hospital. The medical notes state he arrived in a coma at 1.58am, and that the "impression upon admission was acute alcoholic encephalopathy damage to the brain by alcohol, for which the patient was treated without response".
A telegram was sent to Caitlin in Laugharne on 5 November, telling her Dylan had been hospitalised. The next day she flew to America. By this time, a tracheotomy had been performed on the writer, who remained in a coma, and rumours and accusations flew among the assembled friends and acquaintances. Caitlin arrived and was taken by police escort to the hospital. Her first words were reportedly "Is the bloody man dead yet?"
Dylan Thomas died at noon on Monday 9 November 1953. The post mortem gave the primary cause of death as pneumonia, with pressure on the brain and a fatty liver given as contributing factors. He is buried at St Martin's Church in Laugharne.
Thomas left little money and had made no will. It was a messy end, but one curiously befitting for the romanticised poetic lifestyle he had sought for so long.
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