What book is this, you ask? It's Being Mortal - Medicine and What Matters in the End, by Atul Gawande. You may have heard of it. Gawande addresses issues of end-of-life for the elderly. But this is not about medicine. This is about quality of life, living with a purpose, enjoying the last few years. I am at different times learning history, looking at stats, and reading case studies. I am alternately laughing, crying (of course), and shaking my head. This guy can really write. Every page is fascinating.
Gerontology is the medical discipline that deals with the elderly. But oftentimes the emphasis of its practitioners is strictly on medication, medical procedures, and the safety of their patients. Makes sense, right? But what good is health if there is no life? And non-gerontology medics/nurses/caregivers/social workers know even less what to do with old people. Gawande is working to change the whole perspective on late-in-life care. It's more than just retirement communities, nursing homes, and assisted living facilities.
Let me give you just a few tidbits. And believe me when I tell you that I'm only scratching the surface of what Gawande tells us. And remember that I've only read half the book!
1. Emily Dickinson and her sister spent the better part of their lives living with,
and caring for, their mother - to the exclusion of their own personal lives.
2. Several years ago, the University of Minnesota cancelled their gerontology
department. And other universities have cut way back. And this is at a time
when we have never had so many people living much longer lives.
3. There's the story of the 87-year old geriatrician who gave Gawande details
on how the body changes in old age. Very clinical and very poignant at the
4. In Philip Roth's book Everyman, he says: "Old age is not a battle. Old age
is a massacre."
5. Social security became law in 1935. And medicare in 1965.
6. Assisted living came into being in the mid-80s in Oregon. Didn't you think
it was much earlier than that?
And on and on and on. There is so much to tell you. And I will give you a lot more in my next post. But I have to relate to you a couple of things Gawande has written that have hit home for me.
1. He tells the story of an elderly man who backed out of a driveway, hit the gas
accidentally, leaped across the street and through his neighbor's fence. When our
son, Josh, was 17, he did the same thing. We briefly had a stick shift truck, and my
father-in-law was trying to teach Josh how to drive it. It didn't take - clearly.
(Fortunately, he doesn't read my blog!)
2. I read a story on page 48 where my takeaway was that I can't imagine living
3. When Gawande was relating the story about the advent of assisted living
facilities and how they might, or might not, improve the quality of life for the
elderly. I thought of the assisted living residence that we put my father in. Did
we do for him? Or for our convenience? Tough to answer.
As you can see, there is an enormous amount of substance in this book. And I feel very confident that this will continue in the 2nd half too. Needless to say, I STRONGLY recommend that you read Being Mortal. In fact, I insist (can I do that?).