Top positive review
Art of dying
20 July 2015
The author,Dr. Atul Gawande, is a man on a mission. In his path breaking book, he has focused a powerful search light on the fault-lines of the modern health care system. Nobody can deny the tremendous advances made by medical science since the second world war. People are living longer and enjoying better health. But everything is not hunky dory with the health care system that prevails in present day America or elsewhere. The author,an eminent surgeon based in America, carefully dissects the system with his scalpel and exposes its soft underbelly.
As the author so succinctly puts it, specialist doctors now-a-days are trained to 'fix' a particular problem. Elderly patients suffering from multiple ailments are brought to a hospital by their anxious relatives. Once inside the hospital complex, the patient is taken over by a regimented system. He loses his autonomy. Human warmth is in short supply and there is a certain chill in the atmosphere. Doctors do not have the time or inclination to have detailed discussion with the patient or his relatives. The system is heavily weighed in favour of the service provider, i.e., the hospital administration, doctors, pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies etc. The service seeker is left at the mercy of the heartless system.
The title of the book reminds us that man is after all mortal. In many cases, hospitals prolong life unnecessarily, painfully and at an exorbitant cost. An old and infirm person prefers to spend his last days at a place that provides homely comfort and medical care at an affordable price. The author cites several innovative models being tried by people dedicated to the cause of alleviating human suffering.
'Being Mortal' had a profound impact on me partly because I happened to read it when I had not yet recovered from the shock of my eighty five old mother's painful death. She was quite healthy in body and spirit until she was eighty. Then she had a sudden fall and broke her hip bone. An operation was done on her and a metal plate was implanted. A walking stick enabled her to walk on the level ground with difficulty. Her confidence was shaken as she lost her mobility. She considered herself a burden on the family. She became morose. Members of the family had little time to waste on her. She spent the day sitting alone on a chair in a dimly lit room and looking vacantly at a T.V. set. She had become incontinent. She was afraid she might wet the bed. Having lost her autonomy, she slowly sank into an abyss of dreadful agony which was reflected in her melancholy eyes. She often asked me piteously, " How long have I to live like this?" I had no answer. One day she stopped talking and eating altogether. She was admitted to a hospital. Doctors diagnosed it was a case of aspiration pneumonia. The pneumonia was controlled. But she never regained her ability to talk, drink or eat. She was brought back home. She spent her last days confined to her bed with all sorts of tubes sticking out of her frail body. Early one morning death came as a relief to her pain and shame.
A year has passed since my mother's death. Meanwhile I read 'Being Mortal'. The book's message rattled me. Nothing is more precious to a dying person than a smiling face or a loving gesture. Did my mother receive it in ample measure during the last phase of her life? Doubts linger.