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Being Mortal

I have recently read Atul Gawande’s book, Being Mortal. It deals with a subject that many of us may not want to talk about, namely (insert the topic here). The issues addressed by him are however things that we all should talk about.


We live in a society where the reality of death, although we see it every day on television or in video games, has been removed from us. In the olden days, if somebody passed away, the body would be washed and prepared and kept in the house for friends and family to come and see. For most of us today, this might seem crude and possibly even a bit gruesome, but death was regarded as part of life and children were exposed to it from a young age.


In our modern society we have lost some of that and forget that just as life is beautiful, death can also be. It is a certainty, more than anything else in life, that we are all going to die one day. The fact is, from the minute you are born, you are beginning your journey towards death. What are we teaching our children about death though and about how to treat the elderly and the sick? We tend to pass these people on to others and make them someone else’s responsibility or problem once they become a burden to us. Do not get me wrong, I am not saying you cannot or should not put a person with special needs somewhere where they can be well taken care of beyond what you are capable of providing, but often old people are merely dumped in an old age home and forgotten by their “loved ones”.


Taking care of a person who is terminally ill or disabled, is an exhausting and painful task, but it is also a privilege to be there for the person you love. All I am asking is that you just think twice about how you are treating your elderly mother, father or granny. Take a pause before simply putting them in a home, and when there is no other option, at least make sure that where you put them will afford them the dignity they deserve. Treat them as you would one day like to be treated and teach your children how to treat our elderly. They will not learn it from anybody else.


Getting back to the book, though. Gawande asks certain questions, which I think we should all discuss with our loved ones, or if you are not ready for that, at least write it down and tell your loved ones where they can find such answers if the need should ever arise. These questions might be more of a concern if somebody already has a fatal illness such as cancer, but an unexpected accident leaving someone paralysed or unable to answer for themselves, makes it necessary for all of us to give attention to.


The questions are as follows:

1. Do you want to be resuscitated if your heart stops?

2. Do you want aggressive treatments such as intubation and mechanical ventilation?

3. Do you want antibiotics?

4. Do you want tube or intravenous feeding if you cannot eat on your own?


One other important question that is asked in the book is, “If you undergo surgery and things don’t go according to plan, what would be the worst outcome you would still be able to live with? In one particular case the girl’s father replied that if he can still eat ice cream, sit in a chair and watch television and have his family around him, he would like to be kept alive. For another person who used to be extremely active, this of course was not acceptable and he would rather pass on than to be left alive in that state.


So, wherever you are on your journey through life, just take a moment to reflect on this and remember that we are all part of a story that is already thousands of years old.



Recognition to Atul Gawande Being Mortal; Aging, Illness, Medicine and What Matters in the End, 2014.





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