September 10, 2015

Books in the media at the moment - Can't we talk about something more pleasant? Being mortal and Oliver Sacks

Sydney Writers Festival: Author Atul Gawande speaks about his book
Being Mortal
"This is much more about dealing with the fact that I have many patients I just wasn't going to be able to fix no matter how perfect we tried to make things," he says. "I hadn't felt like I had become very competent at being able to deal with the unfixable problems, and then this was also significantly compounded by my father, who was also a surgeon, developing a brain tumour in his brain stem and spinal cord".
Gawande turns to his father a lot when talking about Being Mortal, his most personal example on his journey of understanding how we can support people in the ends of their lives.
"We have medicalised even the aging experience, we have made it so that the number one goal is your safety and health, and that's a very thin thing to live for, being safe… and it has caused us unexpected tremendous amount of suffering as people enter the last phases of their lives," he says.
For his father, the most important thing was that he be able to still have dinner and conversation with his family at least once a week, so he decided to undergo an invasive nine hour surgery as well as radiation for his tumour, but did not have chemotherapy. Others will have different priorities, and simply prolonging life until the bitter end may not be compatible with the type of life they want.

Oliver Sacks Oliver Sacks died recently at 82. He spent his final days doing what he loved—playing the piano, writing to friends, swimming, enjoying smoked salmon, and completing several articles. His final thoughts were of gratitude for a life well lived and the privilege of working with his patients at various hospitals and residences including the Little Sisters of the Poor in the Bronx and in Queens, New York.

The man who mistook his wife for a hat
In his most extraordinary book, "one of the great clinical writers of the 20th century" (The New York Times) recounts the case histories of patients lost in the bizarre, apparently inescapable world of neurological disorders. Oliver Sacks's The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat tells the stories of individuals afflicted with fantastic perceptual and intellectual aberrations: patients who have lost their memories and with them the greater part of their pasts; who are no longer able to recognize people and common objects; who are stricken with violent tics and grimaces or who shout involuntary obscenities; whose limbs have become alien; who have been dismissed as retarded yet are gifted with uncanny artistic or mathematical talents.
If inconceivably strange, these brilliant tales remain, in Dr. Sacks's splendid and sympathetic telling, deeply human. They are studies of life struggling against incredible adversity, and they enable us to enter the world of the neurologically impaired, to imagine with our hearts what it must be to live and feel as they do. A great healer, Sacks never loses sight of medicine's ultimate responsibility: "the suffering, afflicted, fighting human subject."


 Musicophilia: tales of music and the brain
Music can move us to the heights or depths of emotion. It can persuade us to buy something, or remind us of our first date. It can lift us out of depression when nothing else can. It can get us dancing to its beat. But the power of music goes much, much further. Indeed, music occupies more areas of our brain than language does--humans are a musical species.

Oliver Sacks's compassionate, compelling tales of people struggling to adapt to different neurological conditions have fundamentally changed the way we think of our own brains, and of the human experience. In Musicophilia, he examines the powers of music through the individual experiences of patients, musicians, and everyday people--from a man who is struck by lightning and suddenly inspired to become a pianist at the age of forty-two, to an entire group of children with Williams syndrome who are hypermusical from birth; from people with "amusia," to whom a symphony sounds like the clattering of pots and pans, to a man whose memory spans only seven seconds--for everything but music.

Our exquisite sensitivity to music can sometimes go wrong: Sacks explores how catchy tunes can subject us to hours of mental replay, and how a surprising number of people acquire nonstop musical hallucinations that assault them night and day. Yet far more frequently, music goes right: Sacks describes how music can animate people with Parkinson's disease who cannot otherwise move, give words to stroke patients who cannot otherwise speak, and calm and organize people whose memories are ravaged by Alzheimer's or amnesia.

Music is irresistible, haunting, and unforgettable, and in Musicophilia, Oliver Sacks tells us why.


from the ABC book club

Can't we talk about something more pleasant?

In her first memoir, Roz Chast brings her signature wit to the topic of aging parents. Spanning the last several years of their lives and told through four-color cartoons, family photos, and documents, and a narrative as rife with laughs as it is with tears, Chast's memoir is both comfort and comic relief for anyone experiencing the life-altering loss of elderly parents...

watch the episode

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