Have You Thought about Being Mortal?

Have you thought about dying? It’s such a scary topic, fraught with so much emotion. We like to think we’ll always have more time ahead of us. But what happens when something–an illness, an accident, a disease–sets a limit on our time? What happens when we are forced to confront the end of our lives?

Jacket.aspxBeing Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande explores this issue, an issue that we all must inevitably face.

Many folks first confront mortality when dealing with their aging parents, but illness can strike at any time of life. Then we are forced to make decisions about treatments. About living wills. About how we want to live the remainder of our lives. We want to live longer at all costs and we’d do anything to achieve that goal, right? Perhaps not. As Doctor Gawande discovered in his research on aging and dying, what most people want is not necessarily a longer life, but a quality life.

Gawande, a practicing surgeon, notes that doctors are often committed to extending life at all costs. This can mean painful and expensive procedures, even for those for whom there is no cure. Gawande questions this rationale, while admitting he himself has often advised patients to pursue treatments that he knew would not extend their lives by more than a few months or year. However, patients, he came to realize, wanted procedures that would guarantee them ten or twenty more years of life.

But medicine often cannot deliver such outcomes. The exceptions, the people who do survive for years in spite of the odds, are just that–exceptions. Gawande equates it with winning the lottery. Everyone believes they will be lucky but very few actually are. Gawande also noted that, in the case of terminal illness, the trade-offs of pursuing treatment–time, money, pain, recovery–were often not worth the small extension of life to most people.

What the mortally ill or infirm person really wants is a meaningful life, even if there is only a few months left of that life. The terminally ill desire to retain independence and control, as much as they possibly can. They desire to stay in their homes. They want their loved ones around them. They fear prolonged and painful deaths. They fear bankrupting their families.

Gawande illustrates the importance of these issues with depictions of  traditional nursing homes, which place safety and monitoring of vitals above the fulfilling lives people need and want. He counterpoints these with illustrations of models of care that take patients out of hospitals and nursing homes for a variety of assisted living facilities and hospice services.

I was especially intrigued by his description of hospice, a service I had (erroneously) believed was only for the last few weeks of life. Hospice gives the aged and terminally ill choices. Hospice workers ask what your goals are. They ask you to think about what you want. They ask you what you don’t want. They talk about your fears. And they address every issue.

And that is the gift of this wonderfully written book. It makes you ask those questions, of yourself and perhaps of those around you. For someday you may be in a position to have to make choices for a loved one, or in the position of having a loved one making choices for you.

Linda Reads: The Lemon Orchard by Luanne Rice

luanne rice

Luanne Rice

Luanne Rice is the author of 31 novels, including 22 New York Times bestsellers.  Five of her books have been made into movies and mini-series.

Luanne was born in New Britain, CT and spent most of her life in Connecticut.  She currently divides her time between New York City and Southern California.  She is an avid environmentalist and advocate for families affected by domestic violence.  Her first published poem appeared in the Hartford Courant.  Her first novel, Angels All Over Town, was published in 1985.  Many of her books take place in or have a connection to Connecticut.

Ms Rice delivers another captivating book, The Lemon Orchard.  It’s a love story between two people from completely different worlds, but with a common bond from their pasts.  The story starts off in Connecticut and moves to Santa Barbara, California.

Five years after a family tragedy, Julia, an anthropologist who graduated from Yale, goes to Malibu to house-sit her aunt and uncle’s house located in their lemon orchard.  She hopes to start healing and move on with her life.  There she meets the handsome, illegal immigrant who oversees the orchard, Roberto.  She learns that Roberto is also trying to heal and move on from a devastating loss in his life.  Their relationship starts off as a comforting friendship and moves on to something more.  Julia then realizes that she might be able to help Roberto resolve the issue from his past.

Ms Rice is quite skilled in character development and sets a beautiful stage with her descriptive settings.  She deals deftly with grief and loss, love, forgiveness and redemption.  This book is also quite relevant as it explores the world of illegal immigrants and the struggle they endure to try to live a better life.

Look Who’s Writing Romance!

harlan cobenHarlan Coben’s new book, Six Years, is being touted as his first “romantic thriller”.   During his appearance this morning on the Today Show, he admitted he was a die hard romantic at heart.  He’s been married to the love of his life since he was 20 years old.  Also during the interview, Mr. Coben announced that the actor Hugh Jackman will be playing the role of Jake Fisher, the lead male character of the book.

The publisher’s description reads: ” Six years have past since Jake Fisher watched Natalie, the love of his life, marry another man. Six years of hiding a broken heart by throwing himself into his career as a college professor. Six years of keeping his promise to leave Natalie alone, and six years of tortured dreams of her life with her new husband, Todd.

But six years haven’t come close to extinguishing his feelings, and when Jake comes across Todd’s obituary, he can’t keep himself away from the funeral. There he gets the glimpse of Todd’s wife he’s hoping for…but she is not Natalie. Whoever the mourning widow is, she’s been married to Todd for almost two decades, and with that fact everything Jake thought he knew about the best time of his life—a time he has never gotten over—is turned completely inside out.

As Jake searches for the truth, his picture-perfect memories of Natalie begin to unravel. Mutual friends of the couple either can’t be found, or don’t remember Jake. No one has seen Natalie in years. Jake’s search for the woman who broke his heart, who lied to him, soon puts his very life at risk as it dawns on him that the man he has become may be based on a carefully constructed fiction.

Harlan Coben once again delivers a shocking page-turner that deftly explores the power of past love, and the secrets and lies that such love can hide.”

Sounds like a winner!