In this horribly sad time of COVID, with so many families experiencing illness and the death of loved ones, by complete coincidence I just finished reading a book about death and dying.
Many years ago, I read Complications by Atul Gawande. Gawande is a surgeon and his writing about his work is fascinating, and very readable. A few years later, I also very much enjoyed Better, a collection of his magazine essays, also about his hospital work.
His third book, The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right, is fantastic. It syncs with many of my beliefs such as: having to do lists, having a calendar for your appointments, and having checklists for the steps in a process. I will write a blog post about this book at some point. But, in this post, I am writing about Gawande’s fourth book, Being Mortal.
Despite being a huge fan of Gawande’s writing, I resisted reading Being Mortal when it was published. I simply did not think I wanted to read about old age, death, and dying.
When I was visiting brother-in-law earlier this year, I noticed he was reading Being Mortal. I asked about it and he highly recommended it. And now I am strongly recommending it. It’s another extremely readable, incredibly interesting book.
From its Wikipedia entry… Being Mortal is a meditation on how people can better live with age-related frailty, serious illness, and approaching death. Gawande calls for a change in the way that medical professionals treat patients approaching their ends. He recommends that instead of focusing on survival, practitioners should work to improve quality of life and enable well-being. Gawande shares personal stories of his patients’ and his own relatives’ experiences, the realities of old age which involve broken hips and dementia, overwhelmed families and expensive geriatric care, and loneliness and loss of independence.
From the official Amazon review… “We’ve been wrong about what our job is in medicine,” writes Atul Gawande. “We think. . .[it] is to ensure health and survival. But really. . .it is to enable well-being. And well-being is about the reasons one wishes to be alive.” Through interviews with doctors, stories from and about health care providers (such as the woman who pioneered the notion of “assisted living” for the elderly)—and eventually, by way of the story of his own father’s dying, Gawande examines the cracks in the system of health care to the aged (i.e. 97 percent of medical students take no course in geriatrics) and to the seriously ill who might have different needs and expectations than the ones family members predict… Doctors don’t listen, Gawande suggests—or, more accurately, they don’t know what to listen for. (Gawande includes examples of his own failings in this area.) Besides, they’ve been trained to want to find cures, attack problems—to win. But victory doesn’t look the same to everyone, he asserts… In his compassionate, learned way, Gawande shows all of us—doctors included—how mortality must be faced, with both heart and mind.
If you want to learn even more before committing to reading Being Mortal, check out some of the reader reviews on Amazon – they are the most compelling reader reviews I have ever read.
As someone who had previously avoided thinking about old age, death, and dying, this book has been life-changing. I feel like I now “get it” and if I fall back to my previous thinking I will pull out Being Mortal to remind myself what I learned.