This week I read Atul Gawande’s book Being Mortal. I started it on Sunday evening and inhaled it, finishing it on Wednesday lunchtime. Before I’d even finished it, I’d brought it for someone else as a present. I’d like everyone to beg, borrow or steal a copy so they can read it. I’d first heard about him as he delivered the BBC Reith Lectures, seriously the UK Governemt, do not dismantle the BBC. It’s an invaluable resource for people all over the world, it would never be able to be rebuilt and is cheap at the price you’re asking people to pay for it.
Discussing the care of aging and dying people, interspersed with case histories, personal history and him as a doctor going into ‘information mode’ when giving diagnoses – it was a joy to read. Not at all morbid, morose or even condescending, he’s asking us to think about what is important to us, as oppose to agreeing to treatment after treatment when instead, palliative care to give you the best day when you’re at the end of your life would be more gentle, more appropriate.
We are living far longer than our bodies are usually meant to. Trying to preserve the length of our lives is taking over from preserving the quality of our lives. And at what cost? Atul Gawande writes about it far better and clearer than I can. He wants to use his book as a way to begin a conversation. Talk about what is important to you, so when you get towards the end of your life, people who care about you can make a decision that you would be happy with.
Unlike a lot of people, Hubs and I have had this difficult conversation. Watching people precious to us being treated aggressively for cancer, and it not making any difference to the outcome in the end. Watching people who were comfortable being made far more uncomfortable, sicker even by the treatment. Not many times were the patients and families given an option of doing nothing but being supported. I’d long ago decided that if I get to the point where I am in ICU, let me go. Please do not think that I would prefer to be hooked up to ventilators, resuscitated, fed by a tube – because I would not.
If I can’t hold my family, hold a book and feed myself, I would rather you kiss me on my forehead, tell me ‘You’ve had a good innings’ and then dose me up to the eyeballs on morphine (or similar) and let me slip away.