2010; Volume 11, No 9, September

Roger Woodruff, MD


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IAHPC Book of the Month and Other Reviews


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Palliative Care Book of the Month and other Book Reviews

Palliative Care Book of the Month

Writings on Death, Dying and Living On

Maura Spiegel and Richard Tristman (Eds)

Anchor Books, 1997
431 pp
ISBN 0-385-48527-1
RRP $US23.00, £15.25

This book was brought to my attention by the robots at Amazon.com , ‘People who bought [some book I had recently purchased] also bought …’.  It contains a wonderful mixture of contemporary writing together with ‘classic statements that have retained their pertinence.’  The former includes Simone de Beauvior, Philip Roth, James Badwin, Philippe Aries and Milan Kundera, to mention but a few.  Primo Levi’s account of surviving Auschwitz was difficult to put down.  The latter group includes Samuel Pepys and Giovanni Boccaccio on the plagues of medieval times and the wonderful essay by Michel de Montaigne (‘.. I want death to find me planting my cabbages, but careless of death, and still more of my unfinished garden..’).  There are several of Emily Dickinson’s poems that I don’t believe I have previously read.  Compiled in the 1990s, before the effect of the new antiviral drugs was seen, there are a number of poignant contributions about AIDS.

By contrast with the rest of the book, I thought the section dealing with palliative care was poor.  The main contribution, by Anne Munley (described as a nun, sociologist and hospice activist) is a bit dry and dull, all about ‘death watches’.  I felt it missed the dynamic nature of what hospice and palliative care is all about.  Likewise, the section on euthanasia lacked fire.  That said, I have thoroughly enjoyed dipping in and out of this book.  For people who work in palliative care it will be both of interest and perhaps a source for some serious reflection.  Enjoy!

Roger Woodruff (Australia), an IAHPC Board Member
(August 2010)

Book reviews

The Story of Hospice Africa

Anne Merriman

Irish Hospice Foundation, 2010
296 pp
ISBN 978 095 3488094
RRP £11.99, $US16.99

This is a quite remarkable story.  It is among my lasting memories that as chairman I had to cut this woman off, literally in mid-sentence, half way through a fascinating presentation about what she had been able to achieve in Africa.  It was just before lunch in a packed conference room at the meeting in Montreal.  She was way over time, although I think many in the audience would have been happy to stay and listen.  But some were getting restless and Eduardo had looked at his watch several times, presumably because he had half a dozen other commitments to fulfill immediately. 

So here is the full story, for you to hear at your leisure.  After many years as a Medical Missionary of Mary, including a period working in Nigeria, she was instrumental in setting up palliative care services in Singapore.  Then first in Kenya and later in Uganda, she changed the face of palliative care in Africa.  Hospice Uganda was followed by Hospice Africa, spreading the work across the continent.  Determined? An understatement.  Passionate? Absolutely.  Stubborn as a mule (as suggested in the Preface)? Quite possibly.  This book describes what we all believe in, achieved against serious odds, and set in the cultural tones that are Africa.


Inspirational Stories from Hospice Hounds

Michelle A. Rivera

Purdue University Press, 2010
ISBN 978 1-55753-560-3
RRP $US16.95, £13.95

This book is about Katie and Woody, two loveable and very well behaved hounds who regularly do rounds at the local hospice.  The patients and families described are very real and interact in a variety of ways with the dogs.  Sometimes the presence of animals will release tensions or allow memories of happier times.  Particularly interesting was the observation of how dogs responded to different human moods.  I have to admit I didn’t know how much Americans loved their pets—to the tune of $45 billion in 2009.

I think this is an important book that provides more insight into another little angle of multidisciplinary palliative care.  The fourth edition of the Oxford Textbook of Palliative Medicine does index pet therapy, but to one-line mentions in paediatric, dementia and complementary therapies.  The stories in this book demonstrate the variety of benefits pet therapy may have, adding a little bit to the patients’ quality of life.  This book deserves a wide readership in hospice and palliative care circles and the implementation of some form of pet therapy should have a place on next year’s budget.



Masahiro Motoki

E1 Entertainment
Amazon.com $US19.99, Amazon.co.uk £10.99.
130 Minutes

When the orchestra in which he plays is disbanded, cellist Daigo returns to his hometown with his wife to look for a job.  He answers an ad for what he thinks must be a travel agency, but discovers the company prepares bodies to be placed in coffins with a ritual ceremony in which the deceased is washed and dressed in beautiful clothes with make-up, to make it easier for family and friends to pay their last respects.  At first, he is extremely uncomfortable working as an okurivito and particularly with accepting money for working with the dead.  Fearful of his wife’s response, he hides his new job.  But slowly, he comes to realise how important it is in helping grieving families to say goodbye to their loved one with dignity and respect. 

This film won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film in 2009.  It is a celebration of the dignity and value of human life and the importance of human relationships.  It is about an ordinary man who discovers the meaning of his own life by dealing with deaths.  Emotional but not sentimental, this film will make you cry, but it will also make you laugh. It is a quite unusual film, but I enjoyed it and I think anybody who works in palliative care will feel a warm bond with this film.

Roger Woodruff (Australia), an IAHPC Board Member
(August 2010)

Dr. Woodruff is a Lifetime member of the IAHPC Board and his biography may be viewed at: http://www.hospicecare.com/Bio/r_woodruff.htm

View over 100+ IAHPC hospice & palliative care book reviews

Note for authors: If you wish to have your book reviewed, please send to:

Dr Roger Woodruff
IAHPC Bookshop Editor
210 Burgundy St, Suite 9
Heidelberg, Victoria 3084

Note: Review copies become property of IAHPC and are not returned to the author. Only palliative care related books which are previously approved will be reviewed. Due to the large number of requests, we can't provide exact dates of when books will be reviewed.

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