One of the topics most avoided when talking about medicine is death. Sure, we are all informed about what causes premature death – like overdose of prescription pills and bad habits that will severely impact our lifespan – but never about regular end of life, when the decrepit body simply breaks down and fades away. It’s like this should never be mentioned – we will do everything in our power to save your life and get you through this – but the problem is that this battle is never won, we die and can do very little about it.
If we are to look back, like a century or so, we see that death was a norm, a tax that needed to be paid. People expected to die and didn’t make much fuss about it – the numbers of people dying at home, in their bed, surrounded by their loved ones were much higher than today. In our time we die mostly in the hospital, connected to machines and kept away from our loved ones in clear rooms in order to prolong our lives even minutes more – even though by then we are either in agony or unconscious.
Truth is that modern medicine, vaccines and hi-tech imaging machines have prolonged our lives considerably – we have moved from an average span of approximately 50 year just a few decades ago to over 70 – that is a huge increase and has brought along with it the idea that one day we might be immortal – even as we are dying today we cannot but hope that in the last minute they will find a cure and we will carry on.
Atul Gawande looks at death through multiple lenses – from hospice care to elderly homes and geriatrics. The strengths and weaknesses of modern medicine and how doctors and the population can prepare themselves for what is about to come. He calmly and rigorously goes through all the fields and stages of death in the modern world – where we should fight and where we should give up. In a small book he tackles a monumental task, that of admitting medicine is not prepared or ready to resolve the problem, and that of the patient who should know when it’s time to give up – rather than run around and try every experimental procedure it would be better to cherish the small time you have left.
In Ancient Greece it was perceived tat the gods were jealous of mortals specifically for the fact that they are so – that they are finite and can cherish each moment as it would be their last, giving them emotions and a meaning that could not be felt in any other way. This is the takeaway from the book – enjoy your life and loved ones, be aware of what our modern culture can give you and try to be at peace with yourself as you might not walk the same road twice.