Thursday, February 23, 2017

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

Surgeon and bestselling author of Complications: A Surgeon's Notes On an Imperfect Science Atul Gawande's latest book has you pondering what's really important at the end of life

Gawande says that in medical school, he was never taught about having those end of life conversations with patients on what are their priorities; what do they want at the end. Too often, when there is no cure, doctors focus on treatments to prolong life, but at the expense of quality of life.

He shares the stories of a pregnant woman who was diagnosed with a terminal cancer. After saving the baby, the doctor in agreement with Sara and her husband start rounds of aggressive treatments that leave her very sick. In her last hours she develops pneumonia from the lowered immune system due to the chemotherapy. She could barely breath and was in immense pain and distress. Gawande argues that perhaps they made the wrong decision in dealing with Sara's illness. What would her last days have been like had they focused on quality of life?

The reader also learns about how assisted living facilities had gotten their start and about a nursing home who allowed animals as part of therapy and what a difference that made in the lives of its residents. Finally, Gawande discusses the treatments of his own father who had a rare spinal cancer, and the difficulty of having that conversation with his parents, both of whom are doctors.

Dying is something that will effect all of us one day and many of us have or will see a loved one die. Gawande gives us an alternative to dying that steps away from the medical and focuses on the living. Highly recommended.

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