blog post updated on January 15, 2016
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I read Being Mortal by Atul Gawande, M.D. (To be exact, I listened to the audio version)
Dr. Gawande is a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts and professor at Harvard Medical School. He writes for The New Yorker and has authored three other bestselling books.
In Being Mortal, he explores the way most people now live, age and die and for the most part it’s not a pleasant prospect. As people age and lose independence due to frailness, illness, mental decline and poverty, they often also lose whatever is most important to them- their home, pets, hobbies, possessions. And these losses often occur to protect them from harm as they progress into assisted living centers, nursing homes and hospice.
In his book, Dr. Gawande describes how his own family in India expected to care for their elderly relatives, which differed from what he saw happen when they immigrated to the United States. After becoming a physician, he recognized that our care of the elderly often robs them of the well-being that he sought to promote in his practice. He wondered how it can be done differently. He interviewed people who are developing novel ways to provide care to older people, care that preserves their independence, dignity and choices while still keeping them safe and protected.
Most of us either have relatives or friends facing these decisions, or are facing them ourselves. If not now, we all will eventually. Whichever the case, this book shows “how the ultimate goal is not a good death but a good life-all the way to the very end.”
(updated information starts here)
Finally, Dr. Gawande discusses end -of -life care- that is, care when a disease has become terminal and a cure is no longer likely. Sometimes it is difficult to determine when that occurs. As he says, it is rare in medicine when there truly is “nothing more we can do”. However, just because we can do something, doesn’t mean we should. Some treatments, rather extending life just prolong the suffering. Still it is heart wrenching for patients and families, along with their doctors, to decide that it is time to forgo treatment and instead opt for palliative care, with or without hospice. (Palliative care focusses on symptom management and social and emotional support for patients and families.)
Dr. Gawande poignantly describes this process by sharing in detail his own father’s cancer diagnosis, treatment, progression, hospice care and death. He shows how difficult a process this can be, given that even he and his parents, all of whom are physicians, struggled to come to terms with the reality of terminal illness and the dying process. Though they were all familiar with and experienced in dealing with the medical system, they still felt unprepared to face the decisions required at the end of life. But in the end, both he and his father felt at peace with the outcome and Dr. Gawande senior did experience “a good life-all the way to the very end.”
Other books by Dr. Gawande-
In gripping accounts of true cases, surgeon Atul Gawande explores the power and the limits of medicine, offering an unflinching view from the scalpel’s edge. Complications lays bare a science not in its idealized form but as it actually is―uncertain, perplexing, and profoundly human.
The struggle to perform well is universal: each of us faces fatigue, limited resources, and imperfect abilities in whatever we do. But nowhere is this drive to do better more important than in medicine, where lives may be on the line with any decision.
Atul Gawande, the New York Times bestselling author of Complications, examines, in riveting accounts of medical failure and triumph, how success is achieved in this complex and risk-filled profession
Atul Gawande shows what the simple idea of the checklist reveals about the complexity of our lives and how we can deal with it.