So, something that happens to me frequently in these reading challenges is that a life event might set me on a different path than what I had been intending to pursue in my reading. This January, it has been the simultaneous challenges of both of my parents needing major additional care, as they have both been dealing with health issues that have moved into a more intensive category.
A friend had recommended this book, Being Mortal, to me several months ago- before my parents’ situations had become urgent (as smaller problems had begun to crop up, in order to maybe prepare for what was to come)- and of course I never finished it when I had the time. But, when everything became intense, I decided to pick it back up, start from the beginning and read it through.
Let me start by saying that this is not an uplifting book. It is hard to get through many/most of the stories. But, I do think it helped me to understand the difficulties of aging and illness in an incredibly clear light. The book is written by a doctor who has experienced many end-of-life situations, and he shares what he has learned by being right there, part of the process. He gives honest accounts of talking patients through options- knowing that what he says, and how he communicates with patients and their family members will have a significant impact on the choices they make, and the way that they view these very difficult life and death events.
The pages are filled with suffering- but also offer options, ideas and learning experiences that have helped Dr Gawande to become more skilled and sensitive as he navigates these challenging situations.
I am very glad that I read the book- I feel a new, more mature and potentially more helpful way of coping. I feel that it has given me a lens to really focus on the quality of life for my parents, and for anyone that I might encounter in the future who is suffering. I do believe that Atul Gawande has offered the world a gift by sharing a glimpse of reality, as well as hope that we might be able to walk through difficulty more gracefully, if we stay aware of what really matters.
The words that I will return to are the essence of the book, and show up in the epilogue- but no doubt can be helpful to anyone, anywhere on the path to acceptance of life’s challenges:
“Whenever serious sickness or injury strikes and your body or mind breaks down, the vital questions are the same: What is your understanding of the situation and its potential outcomes? What are your fears and your hopes? What are the trade-offs you are willing to make? And what is the course of action that best serves this understanding?”
A life-changing book. I don’t usually give ratings, but this one deserves a 5 out of 5.