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I unreservedly join the chorus of praise for noted surgeon's Dr. Atul Gawande's call for flexible, de-institutionalized, and more compassionate late-life care, from the time when a person needs help with the everyday tasks of living through to the days.
Though concerned with the US medical system, it's relevant to anyone who wishes to address that period with compassion and competence.
This is a subject we can uneasily avoid, and in fact I had it on my Kindle for months before I waded in—but I'm glad I did. Dr. Gawande doesn't sugar coat his pill, but neither he does default to the vague "something must be done" approach. He gives readers some tough love, tracing the lives of family members and patients who endured displacement, pointless and invasive procedures, and (worst of all to me) a disgraceful dearth of straight talk from the medical community.
Gawande contrasts these incidents with inspiring stories of unusual and innovative resources, from assisted living facilities alight with birds, dogs and visiting schoolchildren, to hospices where both physical and emotional comfort are freely supplied to give each patient "her best day possible, now."
Each of us can influence health policies and practices, through how we vote, the requests we make of health care professionals, and how we approach family decisions. But in order to raise our voice, lend a hand, or even hold a hand, we need to know what counts, as the bottom of life's hourglass fills. "Being Mortal" will be a book to which I return, and will inform many conversations.
Concurrently, I watched Dr. BJ Miller's TED talk (19 minutes), "What Really Happens at the End of Life", about how he and the staff of the the Zen Hospice of San Francisco care for their residents. Normally I can waste time on a makeup video for some goop I don't even wear; this really did change my life, and will likely change my dying. Please watch, to experience a realistic sensitivity that is both rare, and deeply needed.
Thanks to TED's generous policy, I am posting it here. I hope each of us, and our loved ones, can one day be helped by such lovingly radical caregivers.