Showing 1 - 5 of 5 annotations associated with Gawande, Atul
- Carter, III, Albert Howard
Summary:Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal is both ambitious and synthetic, qualities that well suit his difficult subject, death. In Western culture, there are taboos against death because it fits neither into post-Enlightenment notions of progress and perfection nor into medical notions of control, even domination of human biology. A surgeon and an investigator, Gawande draws on his patients, his family, and travels to various hospitals and other caregiving places in order to confront death and see how approaches such as hospice and palliative care can improve our understanding, acceptance, and preparation for death.
Gawande has harsh words for contemporary medicine, the supposed caregiver for the dying and their families. Relying heavily on technique and industrial models, it ignores the deep needs of the dying and provides, instead, versions of “warehoused oblivion” (p. 188), for example long, futile stays in ICUs.
As opposed to traditional societies like India, Westerners prize the independence of individuals, a status that is, of course, never permanent. In the chapter “Things Fall Apart,” Gawande describes how longer lives are now the norm but they include chronic illnesses and inevitable decline in vitality. Our deaths are now routinely in hospitals, not at home, and often extended—sometimes brutally—by technical support and unwillingness of doctors and families to stop aggressive treatment.
Also, sadly, there are fewer and fewer geriatricians at a time when there are more and more elderly. A good geriatrician takes a long time with each patient, is not well paid, nor does s/he do income-generating procedures. Worse yet, some training programs are being discontinued.
Gawande illustrates his ideas with case studies of patients and describes, from time to time in the book, the elderly journeys of his grandmother-in-law and his own father. These passages make vivid the abstract ideas of the book. But it’s not just elderly patients who face death: health calamities can come to anyone, for example, a 34-year-old pregnant woman found to have a serious cancer. Various treatments are tried without success, but family and doctors act out “a modern tragedy replayed millions of times over” (p. 183) of a medically protracted death. Finally her mother calls a halt to treatment.
Family members often bear a heavy load in caring for a sick elder, but many nursing homes are often worse, designed for control, not support of the patients.
The chapter “A Better Life” describes the first in a series of places that offer much improved settings for the elderly, with birds, animals, gardens, and, in general, richer lives that have a sense of purpose. Gawande describes hospice care, palliative care, and advanced directives (including Do Not Resuscitate orders) as improvements needed to break the norms of “treat at all costs.” The old roles of Dr. Knows-Best and Dr. Informative need to give way to physicians and others who talk with patients and families about their values, their wishes for the last days, and their preparations for death. In short, aggressive treatment should no longer be the “default setting” for hospital care.
The book ends with a dozen moving pages about the death of Gawande’s father. The “hard conversations” have clarified his wishes, and hospice care has provided “good enough” days. Pain control has done well. Then, finally, “No more breaths came.” The family travels to India to spread his ashes on the Ganges.
- Shafer, Audrey
This collection of essays by surgeon-writer Atul Gawande (author of Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science --see annotation) is organized into three parts (Diligence, Doing Right, and Ingenuity) and includes an introduction, an afterword entitled "Suggestions for becoming a positive deviant," and reference notes. Each part is comprised of three to five essays, which illustrate, as Gawande explains in the introduction, facets of improving medical care - hence the title of the collection: Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance. In typical Gawande style, even the introduction contains tales of patients - a woman with pneumonia who would have fared far worse had the senior resident not paid close and particular attention to her well-being, and a surgical case delayed by an overcrowded operating room schedule. Such tales are interwoven with the exposition of themes and the detailing of the medical and historical contexts of the topic at hand.
The essays, though loosely grouped around the improvement theme, can easily be read as individual, isolated works. The concerns range widely both geographically (we travel to India and Iraq as well as roam across the United States) and topically. For instance, we learn about efforts to eradicate polio in rural south India and the dedicated people who devise and implement the program. Another essay, far flung from the plight of paralyzed children, is "The doctors of the death chamber," which explores the ethical, moral and practical aspects of potential physician involvement in the American system of capital punishment (from formulating an intravenous cocktail ‘guaranteed' to induce death to the actual administration of such drugs and pronouncement of death).
In sum, the topics of the eleven essays are: hand washing, eradicating polio, war casualty treatments, chaperones during physical examinations, medical malpractice, physician income, physicians and capital punishment, aggressive versus overly-aggressive medical treatment, the medicalization of birth, centers of excellence for cystic fibrosis treatment, and medical care in India. The afterword comprises five suggestions Gawande offers to medical students to transform themselves into physicians who make a difference, and by including this lecture in the book, what the reader can do to lead a worthy life.
- Kohn, Martin
Atul Gawande, a surgical resident at Harvard Medical School, asks in his well written essay, "when you see your patient making a grave mistake, should you simply do what the patient wants?" (p. 86) He answers this question by sharing a number of cases from his training that suggest that the orthodoxy of 'absolute respect for patient autonomy' may interfere with good patient care.
Gawande also gives the reader insight into the difficulties that young residents especially have in developing an artful approach to medical practice. He suggests that part of respecting autonomy is (at appropriate times) allowing patients to cede that autonomy to an authority figure. He argues further that, "patients frequently don't want the freedom that we've given them." (p. 89)
He also shares in his essay a personal experience with his youngest child. She was a premature baby who at eleven days old ended up in the intensive care unit. He was glad to put the ultimate decision(s) of how to care for his daughter in the hands of physicians--"they could live with the consequences, good or bad." (p. 90)
- Sirridge, Marjorie
Subtitled "What happens when patients find out how good their doctors really are," this article starts with an important statement: "Every illness is a story, and Annie Page's began with the kinds of small unexceptional details that mean nothing until seen in hindsight."
This is the introduction to a look at a child with cystic fibrosis and how her family sought the best care for her.
The author, Dr. Atul Gawande, goes on not only to tell their story but also the story of the way in which the understanding of this disorder has increased and the unusual rigor with which centers that specialize in the disease are evaluated.
He also includes stories of other sufferers to emphasize the importance of surveillance of their care.
These stories allow him to generalize about the way physicians' care is evaluated in general by the public and our medical organizations and how difficult it is to be at the high end of the Bell Curve. The author concludes, "When the stakes are our lives and the lives of our children, we expect averageness to be resisted."
- Shafer, Audrey
This masterful collection of essays was written by Gawande while he was a general surgery resident. The book consists of fourteen essays divided into three sections: Fallibility, Mystery, and Uncertainty. Although some of the essays fall clearly within the boundaries of the section title (such as "When Doctors Make Mistakes" and "When Good Doctors Go Bad" in the Fallibility section), others cross boundaries or don’t fall as squarely in these general themes ("Nine Thousand Surgeons," an anthropological essay on the cult and culture of a major surgical convention, is also located in the Fallibility section). Nevertheless, the many pleasures of the individual essays, the range of topics explored in depth, and the accuracy of the medicine portrayed are the true strengths of this work.
The book begins Dragnet-style with an Author’s Note: "The stories here are true." (p. 1) And it is this attention to fidelity that makes the essays so compelling. Because even when the truths are hard--the terrible acknowledgment by the medical neophyte about lack of skill and knowledge, the mistakes in judgment at all levels of doctoring, the nature of power relations and their effects on medical pedagogy and on the doctor-patient relationship, the gnawing uncertainties about so many medical decisions--the author confronts the issues head on with refreshing rigor, grace and honesty.
Many of the essays reference scientific and medical research (historical and current) as part of the exploration of the topic. This information is imbedded within the essay, hence avoiding a dry recitation of statistical evidence. Typically, the reader’s interest in an essay is immediately piqued by a story about a particular patient. For example, the story of an airway emergency in a trauma patient, her oxygen saturation decreasing by the second as Gawande and the emergency room attending struggle to secure an airway, surgical or otherwise, sets the scene for "When Doctors Make Mistakes."
This leads to a meditation on not only the culture of the Morbidity and Mortality Conference, with its strange mix of third-person case narrative and personal acceptance of responsibility by the attending physician (see Bosk, Charles, Forgive and Remember: Managing Medical Failure, U. Chicago Press, 1981 for an in depth analysis of this culture), but also a positive examination of the leadership role that anesthesiologists have played in improving patient safety via research, simulator training and systems improvement.
Gawande’s journalistic verve takes him beyond the confines of his own hospital and training to interview patients and physicians on topics as diverse as incapacitating blushing ("Crimson Tide"), chronic pain ("The Pain Perplex"), malpractice and incompetence ("When Good Doctors Go Bad") and herniorraphy ("The Computer and the Hernia Factory"). In addition, he visits his own post-operative patients at home ("The Man Who Couldn’t Stop Eating" and "The Case of the Red Leg") which gives a longer view of postoperative recovery and a broader exposure to patients’ perspectives.
Some of the most telling moments come with the introduction of his children’s medical problems into the text. These range from the relatively straightforward (a broken arm, but a chance to comment on detection of child abuse in the emergency room) to the downright parental nightmare scary (severe congenital cardiac defect in their oldest child and a life-threatening respiratory infection in their prematurely born youngest).
These last two experiences are introduced to provide an angle on issues of choice. Choice of a fully trained, attending physician rather than a fellow to provide follow-up cardiac care for their oldest, and the choice to opt out of the decision-making process for whether to intubate the trachea of the youngest and hence leave the medical decisions up to the care team.