By Atul Gawande
When I saw Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End on the shelf at Lemuria, I knew I wanted to read it. I also knew I was afraid to read it. I knew Gawande wrote about a really difficult issue: growing old in a nursing home or assisted living facility and making decisions with your family members about critical care for yourself or anyone in your family. All of these situations involve the loss of independence.
Atul Gawande, the son of immigrant parents, describes his entire extended family in India, a village who took care of his grandfather until he died. In the most thoughtful way, Gawande contrasts his grandfather’s elder care with the modern system in the United States where most elderly parents go to a nursing home or assisted living facility if they are lucky – a system where safety is more important than actual living – a system where many seniors feel like they are in a prison. Gawande asserts that modernization did not demote the elderly; modernization promoted the independent self and thus made each generation “less beholden to other generations.” Now when we get old and we become dependent again, there is no healthy place for that dependence in our system.
Weaving historical, psychological and sociological research with real life stories of his experience with patients and family members, Gawande gives the reader an education in the history of nursing homes, assisted living facilities and the latest efforts in making the care of the elderly and critically ill more humane. Gawande asserts that we have given medicine and its institutions who care for the sick and the elderly the technical expertise (and the power) to deal with our end of days, and yet, he claims that – as a whole – they have no perspective on what makes life significant during these times or what human beings really need.
Being Mortal is my favorite book of 2014. Once I began reading, I could not stop. Atul Gawande is a brilliant, sensitive writer with a most powerful message. Being Mortal is wise and overflows with every emotion. You’ll want to share it with others.