REVIEW: Being Mortal by Atul Gawande [5/5]

“The battle of being mortal is the battle to maintain the integrity of one’s life—to avoid becoming so diminished or dissipated or subjugated that who you are becomes disconnected from who you were or who you want to be.”


Title: Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

Author: Atul Gawande

Genre: Nonfiction, Medicine

Rating: 5/5


Medicine has triumphed in modern times, transforming birth, injury, and infectious disease from harrowing to manageable. But in the inevitable condition of aging and death, the goals of medicine seem too frequently to run counter to the interest of the human spirit. Nursing homes, preoccupied with safety, pin patients into railed beds and wheelchairs. Hospitals isolate the dying, checking for vital signs long after the goals of cure have become moot. Doctors, committed to extending life, continue to carry out devastating procedures that in the end extend suffering.

Full of eye-opening research and riveting storytelling, Being Mortal asserts that medicine can comfort and enhance our experience even to the end, providing not only a good life but also a good end.

This is not a book I would have picked up on my own, and truth be told, the way in which I acquired this book is so strange that it seems almost like providence. I’m a shift supervisor at Starbucks, and about a month ago, a customer came through the drive-through and offered the barista this book. I don’t know what was said; once the person had driven away, the barista approached me and simply said she’d been given the book by the customer and had no idea what to do with it. A glance at the cover left me uneasy. It wouldn’t have been the first time a religious pamphlet had been handed to us. But after I looked at the subtitle and read the inside flap, I became intrigued. It seemed interesting enough, and as I’d been hoping to reignite my love of reading, I made it the next book on my to-read list.

Being Mortal may now be one of the most influential books on my life. I don’t need to fear just yet a death by old age, but of course we’re aware that it is possible to be taken before our time — a car crash, cancer, a chance slip and fall. Depression has made me think of death too often, but I never truly considered the act and process of dying except to reel from it in disgust. Being Mortal forced me to look at it.

Atul Gawande is a renowned and experienced surgeon, and he’s blatantly honest in this work. For the longest time, he had only one mindset: death is the enemy and must always be fought. However, he had rarely if ever given thought to the consequences this “save at all costs” mentality could bring. His experience with suffering patients and dying family forced him to reevaluate his mindset. He watched lives be saved, but at the cost of dignity and happiness. He saw people who were alive, but who were not living. And he saw the toll this took not only on the patients themselves, but on their families as well.

In this novel, he interweaves anecdotes and science in a way to cause envy in other authors. His prose is elegant and accessible. It does not talk down to you, not does it assume you to be an idiot. The flow is seamless, and the stories engaging. More importantly, this novel forces us all to consider that which we fear to consider: perhaps it is better to allow death to take its course than to force someone to live.

This book is a must-read for anyone, especially for those whose loved ones may soon be reaching the end of life. It teaches the importance of not saving life, but saving the act of living. Safety, Gawande finds, is not the key to happiness, but rather the ability to maintain agency of one’s self in whatever capacity one may have. Too often, we do not talk about death. We instead avoid it, shushing anyone who might try to start the conversation because we do not want to think about the inevitable. But these conversations are important, and they can set the tone for how we will end our lives. The only certainty in life is death, yet we rarely prepare for it.

Gawande’s book is, in a word, masterful. I am only twenty-three, nowhere near death (I hope), and yet I was enraptured and educated on an idea I may have otherwise never considered — until it was too late. Death is scary, but dying is scarier, and Gawande helps ease us into the conversation of how we need to think about it in order to have a truly fruitful end-of-life. This is not a book that must only be read by those close to death or whose loved ones are close to death. This is a book that must be read by everyone.

One of the first major times I was discriminated against for being gay was when I worked at Walt Disney World.

On the first day, my roommate told me that she was a proud supporter of LGBTQ people and would be working with the Orlando Pride parade. After I came out to her, she went behind my back and lied about the things I said to and about her in order to get me either kicked out or fired from the Disney College Program. She said that I had made comments about her “flesh” and had insulted her when she said she’d be volunteering at the Pride parade.

I was called in to my apartment complex’s HR department the day after move-in and told that I shouldn’t tell people about my sexuality because “these people are not your friends.” The obligatory third-party who sat in the room with us agreed, and she told me she waited until she was engaged to her boyfriend before telling any of her coworkers that they were dating because she “didn’t want anybody to assume anything.”

I knew at the time that these were not comparable, but I was scared by the idea of my roommate saying things like this about me, and more scared of what she might do when we saw each other again. Although the Disney workbook guidelines specifically stated that in roommate quarrels, the plaintiff is the one who must move, I was “highly encouraged” to go to a new complex, start over, and keep my mouth shut about my sexuality.

And I did. Because I was scared and young and alone and had never dealt with this before. I had been spat at before, and I’d had schoolmates try to push me off of bleachers, but I had never, in my wildest dreams, expected to find this kind of treatment at Disney World.

It wasn’t until after I moved that I realized the bullshit of what I had went through — the injustice, the ignorance, the fake care. I had been pushed out of a home I’d barely gotten to live in because my very existence made my straight roommate uncomfortable.

And I’m telling this story because I think it ties in closely with why I’m so worried now. This happened to me at a company that prided itself on its acceptance of LGBTQ people and made sure we knew that employees could not be discriminated against for their sexual orientation or gender identity. But this still happened. This still happened. And it’s not even the worst thing that could have happened. In Ohio, I could legally lose my job if my employer decided to fire me for being gay. There are LGBTQ people who are being actively murdered in our own country. What I experienced was not the worst thing that could have happened, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t bullshit.

What happened then made me scared. I didn’t know who I could trust, and though I was still defiantly and stubbornly out, that didn’t mean I wasn’t always wary and watchful. I’m proud now that I stayed out, and that I am allowed to get married, and that I have parents who have spectacularly supported me since I came out in 2008. But I am scared again.

We now have a president-elect who says he wants to reverse the Obergefell v. Hodges decision and wants to take away my ability to marry the person I love. We have a vice president elect who says that he supports conversation therapy. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

I have a right to be scared. I am justified in being devastated about these results. I have been literally kicked, spat at, and had my life threatened for being gay. And now I have a president elect who won’t fight against that.

So yes, this election was important to me. And that’s only touching on the LGBT issues. It doesn’t even get into why I’m scared as a woman or why I’m scared for my Latinx family and friends or why I’m scared for everyone. And of course I’m going to fight tooth and nail to keep my rights and the rights of others, but that does not change the fact that I am scared.

We are still being killed.

“A massacre at an Orlando gay nightclub early Sunday morning has been described as a “domestic terror incident” with at least 50 dead and 53 injured, officials said, making it the worst mass shooting in U.S. history and the deadliest terror attack on U.S. soil since the events of Sept. 11, 2001.” (x)

If you don’t think LGBTQ people are still at risk just because we are allowed to marry, you haven’t been paying attention. This is the DEADLIEST terror attack since 9/11, and it specifically targeted people of the LGBT community. This massacre didn’t happen in some foreign country. It didn’t happen in a place you consider “backwards” or “regressed.” This happened HERE.

The other day, I had someone ask me, “What’s it like moving around in the world as a lesbian?”

This is what it’s like. It’s fear. It’s suspicion. It’s not knowing who you can trust and who you need to hide from.

I am very out and very proud — but I still have to make decisions every day about who I come out to, what language I use, and who I associate with. If I’m telling a story, I have to decide if I say it’s about my “girlfriend” or my “friend.” When someone asks me if I have a boyfriend, I have to decide if I’m going to correct them or just say “no.” If someone says something hurtful or hate-filled, I have to decide whether I feel safe enough to say something or if I have to keep my mouth shut.

This is constant. In any interaction, these decisions are being made. I am assessing my safety. I am deciding if this person will try to hurt me — physically, emotionally, sexually — if I tell them this. Because people think you’re disgusting or you’re sick or you need to be fixed. And that’s just wrong.

SPAWN to be published in short story anthology

S&T 4-1-2016Hi, all! I can finally announce that my short story SPAWN is going to be published in Darkwater Syndicate’s anthology, SHADOWS AND TEETH.
The book is releasing on April 30th, and you can pre-order the Kindle version now. If you want to wait, though, there will be paperback copies coming soon, too.
You can check out the link below for more details! Thanks, everybody.


Extinguished - High Resolution

Imani Simmons knows her mother was murdered. For fourteen years, she has collected evidence and had her mother’s spirit lurking in the back of her mind. But revenge isn’t so easy when the murderer is not only a powerful political figure and expert air manipulator, but your own step-mother. If Imani wants to expose her step-mother’s crimes, she must first come to terms with her own impotency as a non-manipulator and then spark the fire that will bring the truth to light.
EXTINGUISHED is a short story at 7,300 words. Find it HERE in the Kindle store.

Oh geez.

I told my girlfriend, only half jokingly, that I am in a constant state of screaming-in-my-own-head stress, and yesterday I realized how accurate that is.

I’m behind on writing and homework. There’s no time for me to do anything. My car was towed yesterday, so that was a surprise. I keep procrastinating on everything because there’s so much to do and not enough time. I’m considering going on a hiatus from this blog because I just literally don’t have time to do what is essentially school and three jobs (my day job, writing, and running a blog).

It’s rough. I hope you guys won’t be too upset if updates are a little sporadic or if there’s some radio silence. I just gotta get myself together.