August 24, 2015

Being Mortal: Review and Thoughts

For years, I've read and admired Atul Gawande, an accomplished surgeon-plus-staff writer at The New Yorker magazine. This morning, I finished reading his most recent book: Being Mortal, Medicine and What Matters in the End (2014, Metropolitan Books).

Being Mortal should be required reading. Yes, the title sounds like a downer and, yes, it doesn't have that sexy summer reading ring to it. Please know, however, that Gawande is a terrific story teller and weaves medical conditions and research findings into absorbing and deceptively entertaining chapters.

Gawande isn't telling us anything we don't already (intellectually) know about our mortality rate. It's 100%. He excels, however, by briskly and expertly guiding readers through the historical trends and philosophical perspectives, as well as the medical advancements and societal responses, that undermine how we really want to live and die.

For long-time readers of  his New Yorker articles, some of the case studies will be familiar. Now, helpfully, they are part of a larger narrative regarding family dynamics and medical professionals who, while well-trained to treat, do not know when to stop and many times equate death with failure, rather than an inevitable outcome.

What do I bring to the table as a reviewer and one who recommends this book? In no particular order, first-hand experience with:

August 16, 2015

Shot by police, reflections 40 years on.

In light of recent media coverage regarding police shootings, I found myself thinking about a long-ago tragedy, from the perspective of middle-age.
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I've written dozens of stories and essays. Most sit in a file cabinet. While this young man and his family were a big part of my grade school years and exist on paper in the cabinet, I never wrote about his death. Today, I’m older than his parents were at the time and my children are older than he was when he died.

Patrick Fitzgerald had a younger brother and two younger sisters. One sister was my age and we played often at each other's homes. One summer in particular, we wrote snail mail letters back and forth, drawing flowers and stars on the envelopes. Each time I dropped a letter in the mailbox, I’d phone her on the rotary and we’d giggle excitedly about our ‘secret’ messages that took at least two days to arrive. I’d forgotten how we had to have patience.

When junior high arrived, our letters fell off and we hung out like teenagers do. Parents faded into the background and our new world orbited around boy-drama, make-up application, sneaking cigarettes, and much more. We felt a false safety in numbers and in our town.

For me, finding this article after 40 years was a bit of a shock. So matter-of-fact, so final, and so one-sided. It is at once timeless and heartbreaking:

August 15, 2015

Zen and the Art of Dying Well

As someone involved in these areas, both personally as well as serving on a municipal task force regarding seniors, I strongly recommend this thoughtful article from August 14th's New York Times:

Zen and the Art of Dying Well
credit: Wendy MacNaughton

"That’s why the project’s goal is not to increase the number of beds at the Guest House or to buy more houses, but to spread the idea of dying in this way."