If you learn how to die, you’ll learn how to live

Sibylesque Being Mortal quote

BEING MORTAL: Medicine and What Matters in the End

By Atul Gawande 

Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt & Company, 2014.

Review by Kerry Cue

Atul Gawande

Atul Gawande

The reason this book is so meaningful, so compelling and why it ranks as a rare must-read is because, in telling the story of how to die a good death, it slowly addresses an equally important question namely ‘how  are we to live a good and meaningful life?’

Sibylesque The three fates

Atul Gawande, surgeon and writer for The New Yorker, dreams of new ways of caring for the frail and old. He questions the bureaucratic nature of aged care institutions where the elderly are kept ‘safe’, but hardly ‘alive’. And he rails against the invasive, painful and ultimately futile medical procedures inflicted on the dying. Yet this book is no dry academic tome. Gawande tells the storxy of dying and death of his father, also a surgeon, from first discovering the tumor in the spinal column, through the family’s struggling with medical options – operate? His father might become a quadriplegic. Don’t operate, he may become a quadriplegic! – to his father’s final days.

There is one strong and clear message from this thoughtful exploration of the end stage. Patients could have good days even when dying. But to achieve this goal they must be asked, or think about, at least, ‘what are your greatest fears?’ and ‘what are your current goals?’ Simple questions but from the answers patients discover how they are to live in their final days and, eventually, die.

Gawande has managed to take the fear away from our modern, Western view of dying, which, in many aspects involves, an impersonal, sterile, ICU bed intubated with a tube down the throat and a total loss of control. Dying need not be like this. Gawande shows how the human spirit can flourish and life can be fully lived to the very end.

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Photo source: Unsourced book review blog, Tapestry held in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

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Vote 1 Wisdom ….. or How not to be a victim by Hillary Clinton

by Kerry Cue

Sibylesque Wise woman quoteHillary Clinton is 67 years old and running for President. If she is voted into office, an increasingly unlikely scenario, she will be 70 years old and, after 2 possible terms, she will be 78 years old.

Why all the brouhaha? Opponents have dubbed Hillary ‘grandma’, which, indeed, she is, but the term is used as an insult. It is meant to demean her status.

Sibylesque Vote 1 for WisdomThere have been 44 presidents with 3 in Hillary’s demographic. Margaret Thatcher was 54 when she became Prime Minister in 1979 and held that office for 11 years. Golda Meir was 71 when elected Prime Minister of Israel in 1969. Angela Merkel was 51 when elected German Chancellor. She remains in office at the age of 61.

There are now 46 million Americans over 65 and the numbers are rising. Last election they represented 23% of the voting population. Only a fool would set out to insult 23% of potential voters. Then again, fools rush in where the older and wiser fear to tread.

Hillary had the last say. She started a Twitter account #Grandmotherknowsbest.

Thus ends the lesson in how not to be a victim.

curlicuePhotosource: Winedentity

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Welcome to The Chemo Ward

by Jules

Sibylesque Chemo Quote 2 As I walked into the chemo ward for the first time my heart sank. I was overwhelmed by the smell of medicines, and the sight of everyone tethered to their chairs by towering drip stands. I wondered how I’d manage 6 more months of this place.  It seemed like such a depressing sight. But immediately I sat in one of those ugly recliners I noticed people chatting, the nurses joking with them, someone offering sandwiches and drinks on a little tray.

chemo art

I felt an enormous mutual respect, and a complete sense of calm as my fellow chair people calmly as their ‘weed killer’ (as my partner refers to it) coursed through their veins. Gradually over the weeks I spoke to my neighbour – a different person each session. I met grandmas making books of family photos with their grandchildren, a man writing his memoirs with his grandson, another man who’d been coming in for chemo for 11 years after lymphoma with his lovely wife from Uzbekistan, all sorts of interesting people with all sorts of amazing life stories. I began to enjoy the atmosphere, if not the side effects that came on even as I chatted…

Sibylesque Dali, Galatea 0f the Spheres 1952
 Various chemo buddies came with me from time to time- My friend Delores who has recently been through a leukemia journey insisted on coming, though I didn’t want her to have to go back into the chemo zone. My wonderful sisters came to stay and we worked on various knitting projects and crosswords together. One woman said to me, after we’d exchanged pleasantries, ‘If I get run over by a bus tomorrow after all this I’ll be furious!’ My sentiments exactly! And we laughed together. 

By my last session I felt quite at home there. It’s not the place, it’s the people in it that make the difference. Everyone has a great story to tell. And they are all battlers, battling to stay alive, just like me. The TV drones on in the background, ironically telling stories of war zones and people wanting to kill each other as we are fighting the battle to just stay alive.

Jules’ other insightful post, Chemo Journal I, can be found here.

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Jules is a perceptive observer and an irrepressible positive force as well as director and publisher for the Neuro Orthopaedic Institute, Adelaide, SA. 

 

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Photo Source: pinterest

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Chemo Journal I

by Sibyl Jules

Sibylesque Chemo Quote

How do you describe the old chemo trip which, incidentally, I finished 2 weeks ago after 6 months of 2 weekly cycles? This is only my experience- everyone has different sorts of chemo and some are much worse than others. My side effects were horrible on one drug, which I was spared after 4 cycles because of weird stuff happening. I never wanted to know what the side effects might be beforehand- then I’d only get them! A useful tip shared by an oncology nurse friend was to keep the literature they gave me as a reference if something did feel unusual or bad, and just read it as you need to. This helped me avoid worrying about things that might happen and to respond appropriately to them if they did.

chemo art

I can’t say chemo was easy, but when I meet with any of my ‘cancer club’ as my partner calls them, he always comments how happy we all are. We are, after all, alive, and eating, drinking (albeit a modified beverage of choice) and laughing with friends. I think that the last 6 months of chemo has taught me to enjoy and savour every tiny joy- cooking and sharing food and wine with good friends and family has always been an important part of our lives- so when chemo flattens me for a week, being able to eat and drink and meet friends again- or go to WOMAD, the happiest 4 days of the year as I know it- gives me much to be happy about. Every tiny joy helps…Look for them- they make you feel safe and help to stave off the anxiety and fear.

Sibylesque Apparition of the Visage of Aphrodite of Cnidos in a Landscape, 1981

Oddly, chemo has also reminded me how much I love my work. I’ve been able to work two or three days a week, throughout chemo. I found that focusing on thinking and working, surrounded by busy people doing interesting things has helped me to avoid the pitfalls of the ‘poor-me-illness-behaviour mode’, which I might be prone to without the focus! I’m lucky I can choose when I go to work and if I feel too bad I crash and burn, but usually I get some days in each week. I’m also fortunate I love my work. And having a supportive and loving family and partner has helped too of course. I’ve loved having old friends call up out of the blue, and have been overwhelmed by the incredible generosity and thoughtfulness of people around me. Totally unexpected and humbling.

On grumbling about chemo prior to treatment starting, a surgeon reminded me that I am very lucky to be offered chemo- a treatment that may help keep me alive. For some things there is no such treatment and for that reason I knew I’d just have to go with it, knowing that every 2 weeks, just as I’m beginning to feel a bit ‘normal’ again, another bus will run me over.

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 Picture 1Jules is a perceptive observer and an irrepressible, positive force as well as director and publisher for the Neuro Orthopaedic Institute, Adelaide, SA. And here is the Chemo Fashionista post of the fabulous Jules at WOMAD, Adelaide.