Being Mortal: A Book Review


I have always been an avid reader, but for the first time in my life I was invited to join a book club on the floor where I work. #adulting. We would be reading the book Being Mortal by Atul Gawande for the summer and meet for a few hours at the end of the summer to chat about our insights from the book. Really we ended up eating snacks, drinking wine, and sharing stories about the nursing life; but eventually we did get around to critiquing the book.

Book Review
Our book club on 6000

Overall I would recommend the book to anyone, especially anyone in the health care field or those pursuing oncology, terminal illness, or end of life specialities. The book review therefore is not only my ideas, but the opinions of my colleagues as well. The inner book cover states,

“Riveting, honest, and humane, Being Mortal shows how the ultimate goal is not a good death, but a good life–all the way to the very end.”

I couldn’t agree more completely in how the book shows the ultimate goal. It’s pages full of dreams and aspirations, yet no direct plan to radically transform healthcare. And although there is no set plan or set call to action, there are several colossal cases of how this has been played out in healthcare with great success. Each example invaluable. Each example how I would wish to spend my last days.

Quotes directly from the book that stood out to my colleagues and I:

“The shock to therefore was seeing medicine not pull through. I knew theoretically that patients could die, of course, but every actual instance seemed like a violation, as if the rules we were playing by were broken. I don’t know what game I thought this was, but in it we always won.” Introduction, pg. 7

In speaking of nursing home staff with full schedules and patient loads, “‘Dressing somebody is easier than letting them dress themselves. It takes less time. It’s less aggravation.’ So unless supporting people’s capabilities is made a priority, the staff ends op dressing people like they are rag dolls. Gradually, that’s how everything goes. The tasks come to matter more than the people.” Chapter 4: Assistance, pg. 105

Isn’t that a heart breaking statement? As someone who has worked in a nursing home for six years I know this to be true. You are supposed to allow the person to dress themselves, and do as much as possible for themselves. But it can become an exercise in frustration when there are not enough staff and you have one or maybe two hours to get ten residents dressed and out for breakfast on time. It’s near impossible to allow the residents their own freedom. The ideas in this book fight against that. We need more staffing, more of a home-like environment, and more freedom. Gawande goes on to say later that we tend to treat our elderly more like pre-school children than anything else.

“All we ask is to be allowed to remain the writers of our own story.”
Chapter 5: A Better Life, pg. 141

Oh how I pray that when I reach a state of frailty in another fifty years that I continue to be in control of the choices that affect my life. Don’t we all want to continue to be the writer’s of our own story up until the very end? As I said, this is a book full of dreams. And as much as I want this to be always true I know dementia, metastatic brain cancer, Alzheimer’s, and any number of illness take away our elderly’s pen and paper before they have the chance to die in their own way. Let’s be healthcare providers that ensure they are able to write their destiny in the way of how they live their life as long as can be allowed.

Let’s read more together,



**I am excited to be reading The Shift by Theresa Brown, RN an engrossing human narrative about one nurse, twelve hours, and four patient’s lives. Every month on The Joyful Nurse I will be featuring a different book to review, so feel free to join in for this months read. I am already four chapters in and it is hard to put down!

**Photography Credit to Julie Yang Photography



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