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Review: Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

Title: Being Mortal
Author: Atul Gawande
Year Published: 2016

Genre: Adult non-fiction
Pages: xxx
Rating: 5 out of 5

Location (my 2016 Google Reading map)USA (MA)

FTC Disclosure: I bought this with my own money

Summary (from the back of the book):
 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 home, 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 it all.

Review: Boy this book is raw and so good! I didn't really know what to expect when I began reading this book, I just knew Gawande had written books that people I respect said were good. So, I launched right in.

And woah. Gawande is a physician who, as he points out, has the job of healing people, of figuring out what's wrong and making it right, or at least better. But, he began to realize that that's all that physicians do. They don't know how to make people feel better in the last stretch of life, as they are preparing to die. I found two of the chapters particularly intense and interesting: retirement homes and hospice.

Gawande talks about how we put old people in retirement homes and they become lonely, controlled, and they feel unproductive. We can and should change that. He told a great story about a guy who brought live plants (instead of plastic), dogs, cats, and birds into a home. People who hadn't talked, talked. People who had confined themselves to bed, got up. The living things gave them purpose, something to talk about and be interested in. It seems so simple.

The other chapter of note for me was the one about hospice. I think it got to me since my grandmother just died a month ago at age 97. She was uncomfortable, in a rest home (where she didn't want to be), and wasn't happy. But each time she got an infection the doctors filled her with more antibiotics, which upset her stomach a lot. It just sounds miserable and I know she wanted it all to end. Gawande talks about how physicians feel they need to give information as we get so ill. They don't want to tell us there is no hope and that we're dying. Hospice asks questions: what matters more (for example, alleviating pain or extending life), what do you want to do in the final months, weeks, and days? What is most important to you? The answers to these questions will help Hospice make you comfortable, manage your pain so you can socialize with people who matter, etc. I wish someone had asked my grandmother these questions.

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