A Book That Matters: "Being Mortal"
Posted by Marlene Delaney
I am an avid reader. For years, I commuted via the train to downtown Chicago so usually had a book to read. When my children were young, my reading selections changed but I still read, even if it was picture books and easy chapter books. When my husband got sick, I had a fair amount of idle time on my hands. Ask anyone who has had to spend time at doctors' offices, hospitals, clinics, etc.: you have to learn to wait. So I started to read even more. Now that I am a widow and live alone, I have the luxury of reading whenever I want. No one is waiting for me to make dinner and I feel little or no pressure to clean (when you live alone, the house doesn't get very messy or dirty), so I can read for hours on end.
Recently, I read a review of the book "Being Mortal" by Atul Gawande. The reviewer said that it was a book that everyone should read. Here is a brief synopsis:
Medicine has triumphed in modern times, transforming the dangers of childbirth, injury, and disease from harrowing to manageable. But when it comes to the inescapable realities of aging and death, what medicine can do often runs counter to what it should.
Through eye-opening research and gripping stories of his own patients and family, Gawande reveals the suffering this dynamic has produced. Nursing homes, devoted above all to safety, battle with residents over the food they are allowed to eat and the choices they are allowed to make. Doctors, uncomfortable discussing patients' anxieties about death, fall back on false hopes and treatments that are actually shortening lives instead of improving them. And families go along with all of it.
In his bestselling books, Atul Gawande, a practicing surgeon, has fearlessly revealed the struggles of his profession. Now he examines its ultimate limitations and failures ― in his own practices as well as others' ― as life draws to a close. And he discovers how we can do better. He follows a hospice nurse on her rounds, a geriatrician in his clinic, and reformers turning nursing homes upside down. He finds people who show us how to have the hard conversations and how to ensure we never sacrifice what people really care about.
Riveting, honest, and humane, "Being Mortal" shows that the ultimate goal is not a good death but a good life ― all the way to the very end.
I read this book with a bit of apprehension. What if I read something that made me question my final decisions regarding medical and hospice care for my late husband? What if the book described the type of care given at Midwest CareCenter in a negative light? I had nothing to fear. After reading this book I strongly feel that I made the correct choices and that Midwest CareCenter does things right.
But the biggest thing I took away from this book was that we need to be willing to discuss dying. My late husband and I had those discussions ― unfortunately, never relating specifically to hospice care but I know that he would have completely agreed with my decisions regarding his death.
"For human beings, life is meaningful because it is a story. A story has a sense of a whole, and its arc is determined by the significant moments, the ones where something happens," Gawande writes. "And in stories, endings matter."
Thank you to Dr. Gawande for confirming my decisions, but an even bigger thank you to Midwest CareCenter for making the end of Tom's life matter. His life was a great story.