Monday, January 4, 2016

You Should Only Read This Book if Anyone You Know Might Die Someday

Sometimes, when you feel too strongly about something- say, a book- you lose all power to speak coherently about it.  If I like something just okay, I'll be able to tell you all about its story arc and author and what I believe is its inherent message with a certain degree of fluency.  But if I love it and really believe in it?  Oh.  That poor book.  Instead I'll show up at book club and announce, "HERE IS THE NEXT BOOK YOU'RE GOING TO READ," or I'll text you random quotes from it, or, if you have the misfortune to be married to me, I'll bring it up over and over and over again, telling you about what's wrong with nursing homes and how choice and a degree of autonomy should often still be allowed to trump safety as we age, and how little doctors are trained to deal with a tiny thing like death, and why conversations about our choices concerning the end of our lives are hard but so important, and the virtues of palliative care, and on, and on, and on.  (And on.  Just ask Derek.)

But you see, when you first hear about a book, and you dutifully enter the library queue(ueueue) for it, but the virtual line appears to be unmoving, as if it will never be your turn, and you begin having flashbacks of elementary school and standing in line for the water fountain after enjoying another boiling 90-degree Fahrenheit recess, and that one kid that always took his sweet time gulping down mouthful after mouthful of cold water, and only being able to curb impatience for so long before finally hollering, "SAVE SOME FOR THE FISH, MICHAEL!" which, naturally, only made him remain bent over that dang fountain for an additional desperate ten seconds, during which you almost die of thirst...

Well, it was taking me a really long time to get my hands on this book, is what I'm trying to say.

But then, as if sensing my desperation (or perhaps gleaning it from a Facebook comment), a certain hospice nurse not just sent me a copy, she sent me her own copy, pausing in her own reading to lend it to me across state lines, like some kind of Florence Nightingale/Andrew Carnegie hybrid.

So what we have here is:  A nonfiction book about death and dying and medicine's relationship with the same by a surgeon who is no longer satisfied by what he sees both in his field of work and in our culture, written with compassion and wisdom and urgency and a desire to fix things that are broken, endorsed by a hospice nurse, and recommended by little, book-reading old me, who has been kept up a number of nights now, unable to put this book down, reading and re-reading sections and trying to figure out how I'm going to use some of this knowledge to change my dialogue going forward.

Read it so we can tug at our hair and clench our teeth and raise our eyebrows and babble things at each other like, "Being Mortal, it's just- it's so- and that part about the elderly- and hospice- and paternalistic vs informative vs interpretive- and everything- and GAH, I KNOW!"

Being Mortal.  Atul Gawande.  Write it down.


  1. This book has been on my "to read" list for quite a while, but I haven't been able to bring myself to read it. The main points that you note here sound similar to another book I read when I took over managing my aunt's finances. "A Bittersweet Season" by Jane Gross.

    Hospice was a very good thing for my mother-in-law. God bless hospice workers.

  2. I have never heard of "Being Mortal," but as I (and all of my friends) slog through the swamp of decisions that accompany having elderly parent, I want to be a better advocate for my own end of life transitions. It's downloading on my Nook as I write this.

  3. :) I felt that way about Prodigal God, which I was also unable to review.

    This sounds interesting. . .thanks for sharing!


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