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Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

By Atul Gawande, MPH, MD, Surgeon, Author, and I will add, Renegade

A non-fiction book written for the layperson by an American Surgeon who has acquired an array of skills, knowledge and experience, which enables him to write about what is real regarding how we as a society treat our infirmed. This, Dr. Gawande’s fourth published book, is a continuation of his ongoing quest to find answers to problems he’s confused about. This time the problems are personal.

In the most genuine fashion he asks the hardest questions of our healthcare culture. How do we treat something you can’t fix without inflicting therapies that may shorten life and increase suffering? After his father’s illness and death he found the two big “unfixables”: Aging and death. So, he pondered the history of how our society and the medical industry copes with the inability to come to good decisions about how we treat, and care for, what we cannot fix. He found that what really helps the most is simply to care for and honor people and their wishes.

In terms of unrealistic hope, Dr. Gawande explains that doctors are taught only to treat. “The only mistake clinicians seem to fear is doing too little.” The problem speaks to “the momentum of medicine.” To treat something is to imply it is fixable. But, what if the ailment is not fixable? Just because we can treat an ailment, should we? Just because a person’s medical condition may be unfixable does not mean it is unmanageable.

With his father's drawn-out illness Dr. Gawande and his family witnessed “the consequences of living for the best possible day today instead of sacrificing time now for time later.” For “the chance to shape one’s story is essential to sustaining meaning in life.” The book ends with a profound description of what Dr. Gawande came to learn. He learned how to be his father’s true surrogate decision maker just in time, rather than responding with treatment as a medical professional would. He found out that just as in stories, endings matter.

This is a book which took me from one extreme of emotion to another. I think it taps into what each one of us should ultimately be concerned with. You will ask yourself where you will live when you can no longer manage complete independence, and you will ask whether your loved ones, or yourself, will have to endure pain and suffering while passing away. Dr. Gawande brilliantly takes the reader back and forth between first-hand experiences and supportive scientific research, but all the while keeping focus on the crux of the story: People. This book is a must read for all people! ~ Lori Cochrane

“Courage is strength in the face of knowledge of what is to be feared or hoped.” ~ Atul Gawande


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