Why did I decide to read about about aging and dying on the week my mother had surgery? Not ideal timing, but this is a book everyone should read.
Gawande looks at the medical profession and how its focus on prolonging life at any cost has transformed dying into a shocking outcome at the end of heroic measures. He recounts the shift from dying at home to hospitals and nursing homes, and then the attempt at true assisted living.
He talks about hospice and a series of questions that every family should discuss as to the wishes of those who are close to death, but that most don’t in their denial of its approach.
The stories he tells of patients trying the latest cancer treatment right through to the last are heartbreaking. He contrasts those with patients who chose hospice and were able to live their own lives until close to the end.
He makes a compelling argument to know your own ‘line in the sand’ of what makes life worth living and making sure you know where that is for those for whom you may end up making decisions. For one patient it was the ability to eat chocolate ice cream and watch football games. For another it was giving piano lessons.
Everyone has fears about what might come just before the end – losing independence, having choices taken away from us, or becoming a burden to those we love.
I can only hope that the medical profession and the public read this book. The questions it raises are hard, but appear to make a huge difference in the quality of life and the experience of the families losing a loved one.