It’s rare that I start a review with a glorious recommendation (or a complete rejection for that matter). But it’s also rare that I come across a book like Being Mortal. So let me say it straight out – this one is a must-read for everyone (yes, everyone)!
Well unless you don’t know (or care about) someone who is in the later stages of their life, or you think that you possess the eternal fountain of youth and immortality, then by all means – ignore this book. Else – read it. It’s not the most pleasant read (okay, to be completely honest, it’s not a pleasant read at all), but trust me, it’s an important one.
Being Mortal – An Overview
The author covers a lot of ground in this book, which makes it very hard to give a proper summary, without going on and on for eternity, so I will try to condense it as much as I can, but know this, there is no way any summary can do justice to the content of this book.
Having said that, if I had to pick just one overarching theme, I would say this book is about death and dying – but on one’s own terms. Though there is so much more to it than that.
In this book, the author explores the history of elder care in America, from home care, to poorhouses, to nursing homes, to assisted living.
It’s also a calm critique on modern medicine. He doesn’t really place the blame anywhere in particular, it’s mostly an unbiased dissection of the reality of our times and the medical profession.
But more than anything else, Being Mortal is a distillation of what Mr. Gawande has learned – as a doctor, who has had considerable exposure to issues of death and dying, and also as a son, who has gone through losing his father to brain cancer.
Being Mortal – Highlights
There were many things that spoke to me, when I read this book, but for the sake of brevity, I will only highlight the most important themes.
“I learned a lot of things in medical school, but mortality wasn’t one of them. Although I was given a dry, leathery corpse to dissect in my first term, that was solely a way to learn about human anatomy. Our textbooks had almost nothing on aging or frailty or dying. How the process unfolds, how people experience the end of their lives, and how it affects those around them, seemed beside the point. The way we saw it, and the way our professors saw it, the purpose of medical schooling was to teach how to save lives, not how to tend to their demise.”
A brilliant introduction to an enlightening book.
One major theme in this book is the importance of planning. Now planning as a concept is not new to me at all – I thrive on plans, routines, and systems. But when it comes to planning for my mortality, that is something that I had never given any thought or attention to.
Mostly because, let’s face it, planning for the fact that we are all going to die is not the most fun way to spend any given weekday, or even the weekend. But this book has made me rethink my stance on this. No, I still don’t think that it will be easy or comfortable, but I certainly realize it’s importance and inevitability now.
The author has convinced me on the need to have these difficult conversations with our loved ones, before it is too late. To ask them (or ourselves, as the case may be) what they (or we) want, before we are in a crisis situation. Because I am sure that we can all agree on the fact that we don’t make the best choices for ourselves or others in the middle of a crisis.
Now, on another note, did I really need to know that as I age my shrinking brain will rattle around in my skull? Ummm..no. Or for that matter did I truly need to know the frightening details of the downhill spiral of my teeth and bones, or health in general? Of-course not. And no, the author doesn’t really dwell on these things much, but I do. It triggers my over-active imagination, which only comes back with vivid varieties of gloom and doom scenarios.
So you see, like I mentioned earlier, it is far from pleasant, in fact this is pretty grim stuff, but Gawande is graceful, at-least as graceful as he can be considering the subject matter on hand.
“The objective of medicine should not be to ensure health and survival; rather it should be about the quality of life and what it means to die with dignity, a sense of purpose, and most importantly, control over one’s life.
It’s about being able to write the final chapter the way you want to, and to enable well-being in the sense one wishes to be alive.”
He is also a master at using stories of his cases to address disparities between our expectations and the reality of medical practice, and drawing on diverse research to advocate for needed changes.
This is probably the most important book on mortality I’ve ever read. It is packed full of information and written in easily comprehensible language.
So do yourself a great service, and read it soon. You will not regret it.
It’s an essential guide to decision-making about end-of-life care, but also a more philosophical treatment of the question of what makes life worth living. When should we extend life, and when should we concentrate more on the quality of our remaining days than their quantity?
I give this book five stars not because I loved reading it, but because it is what I would call a necessary read, and I mean necessary for everyone, young, old, medical professionals and laity alike.
That’s all from my end folks. I would love to hear from you guys! Have you read this book? Have you ever thought about talking to your loved ones about their priorities when it comes to their care during old age and health challenges? Until I read this book, it had never even occurred to me to have these conversations. I guess I was procrastinating it till a crisis comes along, which as I now know, is a terrible thing to do. What do you think? Do share.
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