Friday, November 7, 2014

Thinking about the end...

According to his book cover biography, Atul Gawande is the author of three best-selling books, including Complications, Better, and The Checklist Manifesto.  I have read all three and was quite excited to read his most current publication, Being Mortal.  Mr. Gawande is a surgeon, professor, and writer.  His books cover complicated and controversial topics in a calm and uncomplicated manner.  He introduces us to real people, with real medical issues while adding a human view to the sometimes sterile medical world.

In Being Mortal, Mr. Gawande tackles end-of-life issues.  He provides a historical perspective of end-of-life care, as well as current issues facing our society.  For example, he asserts that our medical community is still confused on the best methods for providing care for patients with long-term illnesses.  He states:

                “People with serious illness have priorities besides simple prolonging their lives.  Surveys find that their top concerns include avoiding suffering, strengthening relationships with family and friends, being mentally aware, not being a burden on others, and achieving a sense that their life is complete.  Our system of technological medical care has utterly failed to meet these needs, and the cost of this failure is measured in far more than dollars.”

Mr. Gawande considers how “we can build a health care system that will actually help people achieve what’s most important to them at the end of their lives”.  He states, “People die only once.  They have no experience to draw on.  We need doctors and nurses who are willing to have the hard discussions and say what they have seen, who will help people prepare for what is to come – and escape a warehouse oblivion that few really want”.

Overall, Mr. Gawande uses real-life stories to teach his readers the importance of compassion and facing reality.  He asserts that encouraging patients to think about and plan for the end of their life is just as important as preventative care.  In fact, some studies have shown that simply having a conversation about advanced directives (e.g., living wills) can reduce depression and confusion at the end-of-life.

This is not an uplifting book, but it is an important one.  I encourage everyone to discuss end-of-life choices with their loved ones.  It is not an easy conversation, but it can save heartache and provide peace.  Mr. Gawande supports this notion and provides an excellent guide to help begin those difficult conversations.

For more information:

Valerie J Connor, MA CCC-SLP


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