On Growing Old and Facing the End of Life
I’m often struck by unexpected similarities between the books I choose to read. One year I read several novels and a magazine article that were all involved mining. It wasn’t as though I went looking for that theme – it just happened. More recently it happened with a different theme altogether.
The Book I Didn’t Want to Read
One of the books I read with my book club this summer was Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande.
I wasn’t enthusiastic going into it; a book about end of life sounded too serious to me, and possibly over my head since I’m not knowledgeable about medicine or science. I ended up giving it five stars on Goodreads because it was understandable, relatable, and expanded my horizons, which often happens when I read a book chosen by someone else.
It opened my eyes to how society has viewed end of life in different times and places and the many options that are or should be available to us. Is it really better to live longer if the final years lack all the elements that make life worth living?
One example was the author’s own father who, when facing a decision about risky surgery that could potentially prolong his life, was asked what was most important to him. His surprising answer was that as long as he could watch football on TV and eat ice cream, he would be content.
The book also led me to reflect on the final days, months and years of my parents, in-laws, and friends who have passed, and gave me the insight to realize how important it is to have those difficult conversations with our loved ones before it’s time to make the really tough decisions.
The Book I Wanted to Read
I’ve wanted to read Twelve Patients: Life and Death at Bellevue Hospital by Eric Manheimer, MD, since I started watching the TV show it inspired, New Amsterdam. My main interest was to see whether the real doctor was anything like the one on the show. There were a few similarities, but it was definitely “inspired by” rather than “based on” the book.
Each of the twelve patients has their own chapter in the book, and in a couple of them Manheimer talks about how the goal of the medical profession is to keep someone alive if at all possible, regardless of what that life will be like. This naturally brought back the thoughts I’d had while reading Being Mortal. I was going to share a couple of passages with you but, in all honesty, Dr. Manheimer isn’t the greatest writer. His book is interesting enough, but he drops medical terms as though everyone knows what they mean and often includes far more detail than is needed.
I’m still glad I read it, and about the unexpected connection with Being Mortal.
Have you ever found an unexpected common thread between books you’ve read in a short time span? I’d love to hear about it, so please leave a comment.