On Medicine and Mortality

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This week, I’m sharing passages from beautiful books written by healthcare professionals, thoughts on medicine and mortality by Rana Awdish, Paul Kalanithi, Atul Gawande, and Lee Gutkind.


From In Shock: My Journey from Death to Recovery and the Redemptive Power of Hope by Rana Awdish

“We cannot define success as beating death because death cannot be beaten. The undeniable fact of death remains, imposing and impending regardless of our temporary victories. How we care for each other during life is the true restoration—the definition of agency. That is the win, the success we must look for and mark and define ourselves by. Our ability to be present with each other through our suffering is what we are meant to do. It is what feeds us when the darkness inevitably looms. We cannot avoid the darkness, just as we cannot evade suffering. Loving each other through the darkness is the thing to look for and to mark. It’s there, in the shadows, where we find meaning and purpose.”


From When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

“There is a moment, a cusp, when the sum of gathered experience is worn down by the details of living. We are never so wise as when we live in this moment.”

“Science may provide the most useful way to organize empirical, reproducible data, but its power to do so is predicated on its inability to grasp the most central aspects of human life: hope, fear, love, hate, beauty, envy, honor, weakness, striving, suffering, virtue.”

“The physician’s duty is not to stave off death or return patients to their old lives, but to take into our arms a patient and family whose lives have disintegrated and work until they can stand back up and face, and make sense of, their own existence.”


 From Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande

“A few conclusions become clear when we understand this: that our most cruel failure in how we treat the sick and the aged is the failure to recognize that they have priorities beyond merely being safe and living longer; that the chance to shape one’s story is essential to sustaining meaning in life; that we have the opportunity to refashion our institutions, our culture, and our conversations in ways that transform the possibilities for the last chapters of everyone’s lives.”

“We’ve been wrong about what our job is in medicine. We think our job is to ensure health and survival. But really it is larger than that. It is to enable well-being.”


From I Wasn't Strong Like This When I Started Out: True Stories of Becoming a Nurse by Lee Gutkind

“I have a lifetime of learning ahead of me. I apply many of the things I learned in school, but I’ve forgotten most. Random snippets of the rules come back to me, at times, but my mind will eventually eradicate them all, relearn them, and reinvent them.”

“Miracles aren’t always awe inspiring. They aren’t always beautiful and obvious. Sometimes they’re sticky and gross. Sometimes they’re painful and full of loss. Sometimes you’ll miss them if you blink. My eyes are wide open today.”

Tracy Sanson