Saturday, January 10, 2015
Mary Louise Glen
As it turned out, I had read a book called Being Mortal written by Dr. Atul Gawande in early November. The book was terrific in helping me face the issues my family has been dealing with in the past few days. I thought I would write the Doctor an email, which is shown below.
Dear Dr. Gawande,
I am sure you get hundreds of emails like this, and so I doubt you will even see this.
Still, if you do, I wanted to let you know how much Being Mortal meant to me.
I read your book in early November. It is a terrific read on a difficult subject, and I told several friends and colleagues about it.
Then I got the call that I dreaded. My mother was admitted to the hospital with esophageal cancer on November 15. Even though she was 84 years old, she had been in generally good health for most of the past few decades. My grandmother had lived to 102, so the combination of good health and genetics seemed to bode well for many more years of life.
Unfortunately, that did not turn out to be the case. My mother’s health quickly deteriorated. Scheduled radiation and chemo therapies were delayed with the hope that she would get stronger.
Then her feeding tube became clogged, and she was readmitted to the hospital to try to insert a new one.
However, as you well know, this procedure on an older woman in failing health can be tricky. With the help of my brother (who is also a doctor), my mother’s medical team discussed the alternatives with my Mom. She told them that she did not want to go through any more medical treatments. After living a very full and productive live, she wanted to end her days with dignity.
While logically this was the right decision, it was difficult for me to accept. The stories from your book – particularly about your daughter’s piano teacher – helped me understand that often it is better for a person to end their lives doing what they love.
Your book helped me to not only understand what was going on, but also to realize that even our advanced medical skills cannot prevent death.
Last Friday, acting as her health care POA, I signed the papers to send her to hospice. My mom was still lucid enough to understand what was going on, and so we talked for a while longer. I followed her ambulance to hospice.
When they pulled her out of the van, I was standing there waiting. She smiled at me and waved. Even so close to death, my mom wanted to let me know that she loved me, and that she was comfortable with her decision.
My mom died three days ago. I miss her terribly, but I am proud of the way she faced the end.
I apologize for the length of this email, but I wanted let you know how much your work meant to me.
Thanks, Dave Glen