Book Review: Being Mortal

Book cover: Being MortalA change in a personal habit has allowed me more time for reading. I’m really enjoying this change even if some of the books I choose to read are not a “walk in the park.” Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande is a powerful and dark book about the state of medicine in the U.S. It is full of solid research about senior care, in particular, as well as many reflections on Dr. Gawande’s medical practice and personal experiences.

Most of the book paints a very grim picture of the dying process in the U.S. and presents a lot of evidence of the harm that aggressive medical interventions do at the end of one’s life. Dr. Gawande points out repeatedly how these treatments and surgeries do not in fact extend or improve a person’s life. Instead they often have the opposite effect — leading to greater disability and a distancing from what matters most to the individual.

Indeed, this is one of the most profound and helpful aspects of this book. The importance of the values of the patient should be the driver to determine what steps to take next. Rather than using a pre-determined checklist of you have X disease, therefore you will submit to Y and Z test, procedure, and treatment, he proposes that the course of action is driven by the patient’s values. He presents an example of one of his patients who had ovarian cancer. The interaction with friends and families and the avoidance of certain medical devices were highly important to her. Because of these values, the surgery that he completed was more exploratory and less aggressive in nature. It was 100% aligned with her values and wishes.

Dr. Gawande admits that taking this approach, as a doctor, has required him to shift from Dr. Informative to an Interpretive mode where he helps patients articulate and achieve their desires. He writes that he learned a lot from a palliative care doctor including the following questions:

  1. What is your understanding of where you are and of your illness?
  2. What are your fears or worries for the future?
  3. What are your goals and priorities?
  4. What outcomes are unacceptable to you? What are you willing to sacrifice and not?
  5. What would a good day look like?

There are many other insights in this book and I highly recommend it. I have also discovered there is a PBS Frontline episode and a podcast on Being Mortal.

Wishing you the strength that comes from love and the care of an interpretive healthcare team who puts you and your values first.

Happy New Year! Happy Resolution Setting!

It’s the eve of New Year’s Eve and like many others, I take this as a time of reflection on the past year and to strengthen my resolve for the new year. For me, resolutions are absolutely essential for focusing my energy and achieving the results that I desire. Without writing down resolutions, I often lack focus. Though things don’t always work out in the way I hope or at the exact time I planned, they are more likely to be achieved if I’ve taken these five essential steps:

  1. Reflect
  2. Align
  3. Write
  4. Share
  5. Act

The process goes like this: I reflect on what I’ve achieved and what I want to achieve. As you do this, remember to take credit for what you did well in 2014 and be thankful to others. Spend sometime in a reflective state of gratitude and get specific about the wonderful things that make up the gratitude that you feel. Remember the times of connection with others in 2014 and acknowledge the flow and change that is a constant in our lives. Then look ahead — what do you want to acheive in 2015? I try not to over-think this step and instead let my intuition lead me to the juiciest goals.

Then I utilize Reiki, relaxation, and visualization to see if these desires align with my values. I do this by imagining what I would look like, how I would feel, and what I would say to others when I achieve my desired result. (Sherold Barr has a lovely approach to this where you imagine yourself at the end result and write from that perspective.)

The third step is to write out my resolutions for the new year. Ideally, this gets very detailed with a breakdown of steps to take, timelines for each step, and a list of kindred spirits who will help me along the way. Scott Dinsmore has a great tool for going through the writing step. It may take some time to do this, but it is very worthwhile.

Thanks to Scott and others I have been tapping into the power of sharing my goals. As with any intention setting, it is like setting the intention an additional time. You’ve thought it, you’ve written it, and now you’ve spoken it. Plus, you’ve ideally shared it with a kindred spirit who will hold up your goal and help you to achieve it. Sometimes that help comes in the simplest form by listening, repeating, or an understanding nod. However, this support is absolutely essential for the healthy life of connected beings.

Then it’s time to act. I make sure that there are some tasks that I can start on right away. In addition, I mindfully review my timelines to make sure I’m not putting off too far in the future tasks that I perceive as difficult, weighty, or anxiety-producing. Those tasks need to be broken down and worked on “as soon as possible” otherwise they will wait for a lifetime. If they are aligned with your true self and your ideal goals, then there is no concern that they are the “wrong” ones, it just might be that they are the most life changing and therefore need to be bumped up in priority. Also, this process is ideally done in a circular fashion, that is, I need to periodically (usually monthly) check-in on my progress and my alignment throughout the year.

I’d love to hear what you have in mind (and heart!) for the new year. Please share your resolutions in the comments below.

My resolutions include some new offerings in 2015, including:

  • An online tool to request distance Reiki
  • Grief coaching + Reiki
  • Lots of writing and teaching, including an e-book, plus a larger book project
  • An offline support group for those who have experienced pregnancy loss
  • and more!


party glasses