Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Final Exam: Book Review

Published 9 Jan 2007 hardback
(paperback 2008 cover pictured)
For the past three years, I have been reading books written by physicians.  Some might predict that this would lead me to reach a point of saturation.

Not true.

I found Chen's account extremely engaging.  In Final Exam: A Surgeon's Reflections on Mortality (2007), Chen explains in rich detail how she responds to the realities of death inherent in medicine -- and in life.

Chen is a very well-respected surgeon, noted for her excellent technical skill.

However, she also has a background in anthropology, which makes her very attentive to the social, emotional, cultural and ethical dimensions of medicine.

Chen reveals great vulnerability by pulling back the curtain of her profession and her own internal processes, showing her constantly evolving stance towards those at risk for dying--which ends up being everybody.

Yes, physicians have incredible training and skill, but they are also human beings with limitations, biases, and emotions.  Our culture expects medical experts to be nearly robotic. Chen shows us that this is unreasonable and even undesirable. She humanizes the profession, and by doing so I do not lose respect for her and her colleagues. I actually have greater admiration for the difficulties they must manage.

Her book begins with the end--with the dissection of cadavers as part of her medical school training. In various parts of the book, she discusses various stages of how people move from life to death.  She learned about healthy, well-functioning bodily systems before studying diseased systems.

Then over the course of her training and career, she works with people having acute and chronic health problems. She also worked with those suffering complications from surgery and those with a terminal diagnosis who had only months, weeks, days or minutes of life remaining.

Her training was not restricted just to a surgical bay with a patient under anesthesia. She has spent time talking with patients and their family members about how to confront the possibility of death caused by a disease, a trauma, a complication, or an oversight of management.

Ultimately, Chen reveals how patients and health care workers come to the harsh reality that everyone dies.   The book allowed me an opportunity to process this reality for myself as well.


Books about Dying
Films about Older Adults Active in the Dying Process

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