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Sustenance of the soul

Being Mortal

Title: Being Mortal
By: Atul Gawande

"The problem with medicine and the institutions it has spawned for the care of the sick and the old is not that they have had an incorrect view of what makes life significant. The problem is that they have had almost no view at all . . . Medical professionals concentrate on repair of health, not sustenance of the soul."

Atul Gawande’s description of how American society handles the last phases of life is informative and well-written, sensitive and compassionate. I feel it can start many dialogues, not least a national dialogue about how we experience end-of-life transitions in this country.

Gawande, a surgeon, draws on his professional and personal experiences to give us examples of the conversations we might have when it’s our turn to make choices. The topics that stood out for me were where to live as we need more assistance, and ways to discuss when to stop aggressive treatment and start palliative care. Anyone with a friend or family member facing such decisions may find this book helpful as a moral support and guide.

There is a very interesting chapter about the birth and (sadly) devolution of assisted living, and an amusing and hopeful chapter about bringing animals to live in nursing homes. A few dedicated people are making changes in how nursing homes and assisted living facilities are structured, to provide more flexibility and autonomy within the safety net.

"Bill Thomas wanted to remake the nursing home. Keren Wilson wanted to do away with it entirely and provide assisted living facilities instead. But they were both pursuing the same idea: to help people in a state of dependence sustain the value of existence. Thomas’s first step was to give people a living being to care for; Wilson’s was to give them a door they could lock and a kitchen of their own."

The elderly can continue to enjoy some independence and a meaningful life even in these settings. We also learn that hospice care can bring so much relief some people actually live longer than expected and with more enjoyment than they had while fighting their condition.

The author’s motivation is to help us have a better life, both during the declining years before death and in the last weeks. If his excellent book reaches a wide audience, I am certain his goal will be met.

View similarly tagged posts: non-fiction

Posted on Jan. 22, 2015 at 4:32 a.m.

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