This book may be about mortality, but surprisingly it isn’t depressing at all (though it may trigger depressing thoughts in those with relatives in end-of-life care situations). My book club just finished discussing it Sunday, and since most of us have dealt with or are currently dealing with end-of-life care for our relatives, it sparked good discussion.
Gawande is a medical doctor. In this book, he shares the stories of patients with terminal illnesses and patients who are looking for options as they age and become unable to care for themselves independently. He tells of some approaches that have work for nursing homes, assisted living communities, and hospice. Most importantly, he discusses the elephant in the room: why are so many doctors focusing on treatment to prolong patients’ lives, and not on palliative care to make what time they have left more pleasant?
Basically, Gawande comes to the conclusion that doctors and nurses really need to be taught how to get patients to discuss their wishes and goals for long-term care, so that medical staff and the patient (and his or her family) can be more comfortable making the decisions that will make patients’ final days as good as they can be, while avoiding outcomes that the patient doesn’t want.
If you don’t have time to read the book, a list of the questions Gawande suggests that patitents be asked appears in this interview. I suggest that whether or not you choose to read this book, you should read the article and talk to your loved ones about it. Pleasant? Probably not, but useful? Definitely.