Life Changing

33 reviews

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End
by Atul Gawande

Published: 2017-09-05
Paperback : 304 pages
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154 clubs reading this now
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Recommended to book clubs by 32 of 33 members

Named a Best Book of the Year by The Washington Post, The New York Times Book Review, NPR, and Chicago Tribune, now in paperback with a new reading group guide

Medicine has triumphed in modern times, transforming the dangers of childbirth, injury, and disease from harrowing to manageable. ...

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Named a Best Book of the Year by The Washington Post, The New York Times Book Review, NPR, and Chicago Tribune, now in paperback with a new reading group guide

Medicine has triumphed in modern times, transforming the dangers of childbirth, injury, and disease from harrowing to manageable. But when it comes to the inescapable realities of aging and death, what medicine can do often runs counter to what it should.

Through eye-opening research and gripping stories of his own patients and family, Gawande reveals the suffering this dynamic has produced. Nursing homes, devoted above all to safety, battle with residents over the food they are allowed to eat and the choices they are allowed to make. Doctors, uncomfortable discussing patients' anxieties about death, fall back on false hopes and treatments that are actually shortening lives instead of improving them.

In his bestselling books, Atul Gawande, a practicing surgeon, has fearlessly revealed the struggles of his profession. Now he examines its ultimate limitations and failures-in his own practices as well as others'-as life draws to a close. Riveting, honest, and humane, Being Mortal shows how the ultimate goal is not a good death but a good life-all the way to the very end.

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Discussion Questions

1. Why do we assume we will know how to empathize and comfort those in end-of-life stages? How prepared do you feel to do and say the right thing when that time comes for someone in your life?

2. What do you think the author means when he says that we’ve “medicalized mortality”? How does The
Death of Ivan Ilyich
illustrate the suffering that can result? Have you ever witnessed such suffering?

3. As a child, what did you observe about the aging process? How was mortality discussed in your family? How do your family’s lifespan stories compare to those in the book?

4. Have you ever seen anyone die? What was it like? How did the experience affect your wishes for the end of your own life?

5. What surprising facts did you discover about the physiology of aging? Did Dr. Gawande’s descriptions of the body’s natural transitions make you more or less determined to try to reverse the aging process?

6. Did you read Alice Hobson’s story as an inspiring one, or as a cautionary tale?

7. Do you know couples like Felix and Bella? The last days for Bella were so hard on Felix, but do you think he’d have had it any other way? Was there anything more others could have done for this couple?

8. Chapter 4 describes the birth of the assisted-living facility concept (Park Place), designed by Keren Wilson to provide her disabled mother, Jessie, with caregivers who would not restrict her freedom. Key components included having her own thermostat, her own schedule, her own furniture, and a lock on the door. What does it mean to you to treat someone with serious in rmities as a person and not a patient?

9. What realities are captured in the story of Lou Sanders and his daughter, Shelley, regarding home care? What con icts did Shelley face between her intentions and the practical needs of the family and herself? What does the book illustrate about the universal nature of this struggle in families around the globe?

10. Reading about Bill Thomas’s Eden Alternative in chapter 5, what came to mind when he outlined the Three Plagues of nursing home existence: boredom, loneliness, and helplessness? What do you think matters most when you envision eldercare?

11. How would you answer the question Gawande raises in chapter 6 regarding Sara Monopoli’s nal days: “What do we want Sara and her doctors to do now?”

12. The author writes, “It is not death that the very old tell me they fear. It is what happens short of death...” (55)
What do you fear most about the end of life? How do you think your family would react if you told them, “I’m ready”? How do we strike a balance between fear and hope, while still confronting reality?

13. In Josiah Royce’s book, The Philosophy of Loyalty, he explores the reasons why just food, safety, shelter, etc. provide an empty existence. He concludes that we all need a cause beyond ourselves. Do you agree? What are your causes? Do you nd them changing as you get older?

14. Often medical treatments do not work. Yet our society seems to favor attempts to “ x” health problems, no matter the odds of their success. Dr. Gawande quotes statistics that show 25% of Medicare spending goes to the 5% of patients in the last stages of life. Why do you think it’s so dif cult for doctors and/or families to refuse or curtail treatment? How should priorities be set?

15. What is your attitude, as you put it into practice, toward old age? Is it something to deny or avoid, or a stage of life to be honored? Do you think most people are in denial about their own aging?

16. Discuss the often-politicized end-of-life questions raised in the closing chapters of Being Mortal. If you had to make a choice for a loved one between ICU and hospice, what would you most want to know from them? Susan Block’s father said he’d be willing to go through a lot as long as he was able to still “eat chocolate ice cream and watch football on television.” What would you be willing to endure and what would you not be willing to endure for the possibility of more time?

17. As the author learns the limitations of being Dr. Informative, how did your perception of doctors and what you want from them change? What would you want from your doctor if you faced a serious illness?

18. Doctors, and probably the rest of us, tend to de ne themselves by their successes, not their failures. Is this true in your life? At work, in your family, at whatever skills you have? Should we de ne ourselves more by our failures? Do you know people who de ne themselves by their failures? (Are they fun to be with?) How can doctors, and the rest of us, strike a balance?

19. In chapter 8, Dr. Gawande describes the choices made by his daughter’s piano teacher, Peg Bachelder. Her de nition of a good day meant returning to teaching, culminating in two concerts performed by her students. If you were facing similar circumstances, what would your good day look like?

20. How was your reading affected by the book’s nal scene, as Dr. Gawande ful lls his father’s wishes? How do tradition and spirituality in uence your concept of what it means to be mortal?

Suggested by Members

1. How did the writing style contribute to the intent of the book? Did the author succeed in keeping you engaged?
2. What new concepts did you learn from the book? Any surprises? What did the author say that he had learned about end of life issues?
3. How does this book relate to your own past, current or future life experiences?
by MGINFM (see profile) 05/05/15

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by Sam A. (see profile) 11/13/19

Gawande truly has a gift with language. He brings an easy clarity to complex medical scenarios and allows the reader to fully understand each experience. Insightful, informative and genuinely interesting.... (read more)

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