Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Book Review: Modern medicine and Mortality 101

My #bookReview of "Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End" by Atul Gawande
I have been a fan of Mr. Gawande’s writing, and had read his earlier bestseller “complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect” and other articles in New Yorker. I like the lucid, narrative style in which he explores medical topics which many of us laymen might find hard to comprehend.  I picked up “Being Mortal” for another practical reason: I happen to be an Indian-American, with aging parents living in the old country, and a father who is undergoing treatment for an advanced prostate growth.

As humans, we are confronted with death, dying and mortality of life that sometimes comes with old age and disease but also confronts us at the most unexpected of times. Most of us look to prolong life, in many cases blinded by the promise of technical advances in modern medicine, but disregard or ignore the risks and side- effects such practices can have on quality of life.

Based on extensive research, interviews and review of several case studies, Atul Gawande’s though provoking book is not just topical, but for some, may also be a timely read.  What makes this book especially readable is the ‘life’ Atul brings to a rather morbid topic (sic!)

In the first few chapters, Atul starts by building a case for medical care professionals to be aware of geriatrics:

“most doctors treat disease and figure that the rest will take care of itself. And if it doesn’t – if a patient is becoming infirm and heading toward a nursing home – well, that isn’t really a medical problem, is it?”

Grounded in extensive research and analysis, Atul also opens himself up by exploring the experiences of his wife's grandmother and his own father as they and their family come to grips with mortality. He also lucidly describes how his family prepared for their death with dignity, at their own terms:

“The neck pain remained annoying …. But they also knew what mattered to him and left well enough alone. This was, I remember thinking, just the way I ought to make decisions with my own patients – the way we all ought to in medicine.”

Even his narratives on diseases and death, while exploring scores of case studies are expressive, and tend to stay away from clinical text; for instance, when he summarizes “no matter how much one has seen, nature refuses predictability”

Being Mortal is a very readable book that explores a demanding topic that can be deeply personal.