Medicine and What Matters in the End
“Being mortal is about the struggle to cope with the constraints of our biology, with the limits set of genes and cells and flesh and bone.” Death is terrifying because of its uncertainty (mental sufferings) and its torturous plains (physical sufferings). Two big pillars examined in the book are about aging and terminal illness, which respectively bring people’s last chapter of life to nursing homes and risky & painful surgical tables. These decisions to end one’s life becomes a (new) norm when modern medication has granted us the power to push this boundary further. But there is a limit, and it will forever be a limit.
The book helped me to understand what really is the job of doctors. Why are many older people mentally distressed in institutionalized nursing homes where they are no different from prisoners? They are woken up, bathed, given meals, put to sleep according to a predetermined schedule. Why do many literally spend their last chapters of life with narcotics, radiation treatments, chemotherapies, artificial tubes, in plain and unconsciousness? Is there any better way when one knows he/she will soon leave the Earth?
This book answers yes, and I found it wholly humane and sincere though not easy. It turns out that we always have a bigger purpose in their life even in the last minutes, rather than merely prolonging their life. People want to share memories, pass on wisdoms and keepsakes, settle relationships, establish their legacies, and make sure those who are left behind will be ok. These ultimate purposes, however, are frequently out of sight when the patients are frightened by vaguely defined values and without doctors’ guide.
The book is all about the role of doctors in helping patients to navigate within the uncertainties and opt for the right direction based on their last priorities. Sometimes, the decision to give up surgery or stop a ventilator is tremendously hard for their loved one; only the patient knows what he/she prioritizes the most.
April 21, 2020, 3:00:00 PM
philosophy, non-fiction, science
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