Morgan Park

 Baptist Church

Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor

11024 S. Bell Avenue 

Chicago, IL 60643


Reflection April 30, 2017 

Being Mortal
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth 

     Last week, I lead a discussion of Dr. Atul Gawande’s #1 New York Times Bestseller, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End at Smith Village. We garnered a good group and a lively discussion ensued. I did this same presentation at our church twice on March 29. In this week’s Advance, I will put in some quotations from Dr. Gawande’s sobering text for us to ponder:


“Modern scientific capability has profoundly altered the course of human life. People live longer and better than at any other time in history. But scientific advances have turned the processes of aging and dying into medical experiences, matters to be managed by health care professionals. And we in the medical world have proved alarmingly unprepared for it.”


“I am in a profession that has succeeded because of its ability to fix. If your problem is fixable, we know just what to do. But if it’s not? The fact that we have no adequate answers to this question is troubling and has caused callousness, inhumanity, and extraordinary suffering.”


“The waning days of our lives are given over to treatments that addle our brains and sap our bodies for a sliver’s chance of benefit. They are spent in institutions - nursing homes and intensive care units - where regimented, anonymous routines cut us off from all the things that matter to us in life.”


“In truth no single disease (among the elderly) leads to the end; the culprit is just the accumulated crumbling of one’s bodily systems while medicine carries out its maintenance measures and patch jobs … The curve of life becomes a long, slow fade.”


(As we age) “Even our brains shrink: at the age of thirty, the brain is a three-pound organ that barely fits inside the skull; by our seventies, gray matter loss leaves almost an inch of spare room. That’s why elderly people are so much more prone to cerebral bleeding after a blow to the head - the brain actually rattles around inside. The earliest portions to shrink are generally the frontal lobes, which govern judgment and planning, and the hippocampus, where memory is organized … By age 85, working memory and judgment are sufficiently impaired that 40 percent of us have textbook dementia.”


“It turns out that inheritance has surprisingly little influence on longevity … only 3 percent if how long you’ll live is explained by your parents’ longevity.”


“As we age … we just fall apart.”


“Each year, about 350,000 Americans fall and break a hip. Of those, 40 percent end up in a nursing home, and 20 percent are never able to walk again. The three primary risk factors for falling are poor balance, taking more than four prescription medications, and muscle weakness. Elderly people without these risk factors have a 12 percent chance of falling in a year. Those with all three risk factors have an almost 100 percent chance.”


“The median income of people eighty and older is about $15,000. More than half of the elderly living in long-term-care facilities run through their entire savings and have to go on government assistance - welfare (typically Medicaid) - in order to afford it.”


“The risk of a fatal car crash with a driver who is eighty-five or older is more than three times higher than it is with a teenage driver. The very old are the highest risk drivers on the road.”


“As fewer of us are struck dead out of the blue, most of us will spend significant periods of our lives too reduced and debilitated to live independently. We do not like to think about this eventuality. As a result, most of us are unprepared for it.”


“We all require devotion to something more than ourselves for our lives to be endurable. Without it, we have only our desires to guide us, and they (feelings) are fleeting, capricious, and insatiable.”


“Medical professionals concentrate on repair of health, not sustenance of the soul. Yet we have decided that they (medical professionals) should be the ones who largely define how we live in our waning days. For more than a half century now, we have treated the trials of sickness, aging, and mortality as medical concerns. It has been an experiment in social engineering, putting out fates in the hands of people valued more for their technical prowess than for their understanding of human needs. That experiment has failed.”


“People with serious illness have priorities besides simply prolonging their lives. Surveys find that their top concerns include avoiding suffering, strengthening relationships with family and friends, being mentally aware, not being a burden on others, and achieving a sense that their life is complete. Our system of technological medical care has utterly failed to meet these needs.”

 “At least two kinds of courage are required in aging and sickness. The first is the courage to confront the reality of mortality - the courage to seek out the truth of what is to be feared and what is to be hoped ... But even more daunting is the second kind of courage - the courage to act on the truth we find.”