Saturday, April 23, 2016

Complications, The Checklist Manifesto, When Breath Becomes Air

As a continuation of my pre-meducation, here is a "tasting flight" of three books on medicine by two esteemed Indian-American surgeons.

Complications | Atul Gawande

Last spring, I read Being Mortal and was completely floored. Atul Gawande is a Renaissance man: a surgeon, a scholar, a writer, and an entrepreneur and has reached some kind of star status in popular science writing. Complications is a compilation and revision of some of his pieces from The New Yorker, written during his general surgery residency. Though the book retains this piecewise/anecdotal character, the persistent theme is of uncertainty and complications in medicine, focused on surgery. Atul Gawande is an excellent writer, and really immersed me into the patients' stories and identities, which is sometimes lost in other medical writing. Since he was a resident writing this, there is a powerful sense of wonder, newness, and awe, which I hope I can feel at that stage too.

The Checklist Manifesto | Atul Gawande

Errors in the operating room can be minimized by use of checklists, and here's how to do it -- that's the book. Exceedingly complex systems with great room for error (and dire consequences when they occur) can be managed by clear checklists outlining safety-critical steps, and have been used by pilots for decades. Atul Gawande's push for implementing checklists in operating rooms, for many procedures and in many different hospitals here and abroad, is basically the premise of the book. I listened to the Ted Talk shortly before I read this and got pretty much the same information, albeit with less narrative decoration. It's a fast, easy read, but out of other Gawande books, it doesn’t stand out.

When Breath Becomes Air | Paul Kalanithi

The first quarter this year, it seemed that everyone was reading this book, or planning on reading this book. I first read -- and shed tears -- reading four pieces from the New York Times directly related to this book: Dr. Paul Kalanithi's reflections on lifespan, a version of the epilogue by his widow Dr. Lucy Kalanithi, an interview with Dr. Lucy Kalanithi, and the review. Dr. Kalanithi was an accomplished neurosurgeon on the cusp of finishing his residency training, with expansive wisdom, education, and philosophical capacity. The driving theme of this memoir/collection of meditations/elegy was: what makes us human?/what makes life worth living? Not to be insensitive, but it rather reminded me of one of Walter White's more sinister lines from season 5 of Breaking Bad: "I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. And I was really, I was alive." When Breath Becomes Air was undoubtedly well-written; emotional and moving at its best, but lofty and esoteric at its worst. Suffice to say his English degree is very apparent, and that I'm not well-read enough to follow his references. The epilogue by Dr. Lucy Kalanithi was particularly impactful, the foreword by Dr. Abraham Verghese far less so.

1 comment:

  1. Funnily I don't think I've ever read any medical books before. I definitely know of When Breath Becomes Air and I think I've heard of Gawande before as well. I guess in general I prefer fiction in my downtime.