Saturday, December 19, 2009

Mostly Dead is Slightly Alive.

GeriPal takes a good gander at Sanjay Gupta's Cheating Death and doesn't agree with everything it finds:

"Death is not a single event, but a process that may be interrupted, even reversed. And here's the exciting part – at any point during this process, the course of what seems inevitable can be changed. That is precisely what we are going to explore in this book: the possibility of cheating death."
These are the words of Dr. Sanjay Gupta, a practicing neurosurgeon, the chief medical correspondent to CNN, an almost Surgeon General, and now author of the book Cheating Death. Cheating Death is, in Dr. Gupta's own words, a "medical thriller". This is an apt description considering the dramatic prose that the author infuses into this book.Dr. Gupta lavishly uses inspirational and exceptional real life stories to make his point that medical science is blurring the distinction between life and death. His tale weaves the science of hypothermia protocols, CPR resuscitation techniques, hibernation and suspended animation research, near death experiences, and fetal surgeon into a gripping argument that if you and your physician “fight” hard enough, and don’t “give up”, you can overcome practically everything, even death [insert collective GeriPal groan here].

I completely understand that I am not the intended audience of this book. I also understand that this book is intentionally sensationalistic, as most mass journalism is today. However, even if I resign myself to read this book as a piece of modern infotainment, I am still unable to get past its biggest flaw – the complete lack of consistency when using the term “death”.

Dr. Gupta does an excellent job near the beginning of the book describing death as not as an event, but a process. He views it as an "ongoing chain of events that might be reversed with the right intervention". This sounds like a similar definition to those described by some in the
palliative care fieldwhen discussing DNR status with patients ("If you were to die, would you like us to try to resuscitate you"). It is also similar to the description of death used by the character Miracle Max in the Princess Bride when describing a seemingly lifeless body in front of him:
"It just so happens that your friend here is only MOSTLY dead. There's a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive."

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