IAHPC book reviews

2013; Volume 14, No 10, October

IAHPC book reviews

By Dr. Roger Woodruff

Palliative Care books of the month

Stories and Lessons
Islene Runningdeer
Jessica Kingsley, 2013
158 pp
ISBN 978-1-84905-936-7
RRP $US29.95 £17.99

Review copy supplied by Footprint Books www.footprint.com.au

I thought this was a remarkable little book. It is well-written, interesting and informative.

I learned about Death Songs, which have been sung throughout history. Whether written by an eighth-century English monk, the great Buddhist yogi Milarepa of Tibet, or by Crowfoot of the Blackfeet, they are all directed at what we long for at life’s end - the soul’s well-being.

I guess this is the first time I have been taken on ‘clinical rounds’ by a music therapist. I learned that it’s not about the music, but about developing a caring therapeutic relationship directed at the needs of each individual patient, using music as the medium or language. The patient determines what is done, the tempo, and the therapist has to be flexible and open, following the patient’s cues. Runningdeer likens the skills needed for music therapy in palliative care to those of the musical accompanist to a performing soloist, which sounded like an appropriate analogy to me.

I could not help but be impressed by the range and variety of ways that sound and music (and sometimes, just silence) can be used to help our patients cope and deal with what they are going through. I learned that simple breathing and toning (breathing in tandem) could relax the unconscious patient and relieve them of labored respiration.

Runningdeer, an accomplished musician of mixed French-Canadian and native Indian ancestry, has a remarkable attitude to palliative care. Meeting new patients, often with only rudimentary background information, the challenge is to open your eyes and ears and sort out what the real problems are for this patient or family and try and formulate a plan that will help them. I was very comfortable with that.

I can recommend this book to anyone who works in palliative care. You will be wiser about music therapy whilst having an enjoyable lesson in person-centered, holistic palliative care.

Other reviews

Lynn Borsteltmann
HPNA (Hospice & Palliative Nurses Association) and Kendall Hunt, 2009
253 pp.
ISBN 978-0-7575-6209-9
RRP $US89.00 (Amazon.com), £89.00 (Amazon.co.uk). Available at the HPNA website for $US60.00 (non-members), $US45.00 (members).

This book and its companion, the Core Curriculum for the Generalist Hospice & Palliative Nurse (which I have not seen) are provided to help hospice and palliative nurses assess and expand their professional knowledge. With just over 300 multiple choice questions, including case-related problems and medication calculations, there is good coverage of the field. Answers are provided, including a succinct explanation of why the answer was correct or incorrect. The standard of the questions seems good, and a number made me stop and think before turning the page a little apprehensively to see if I got it right. It is very practical from a clinical point of view. A small number of the questions relate to the US health care system or to drugs not used frequently outside the USA, but I think the book would be very useful to nurses outside the USA. HPNA are to be congratulated on adding to the educational resources for hospice and palliative nurses, particularly those contemplating certification examinations.

C. Overy and E.M. Tansey (Eds)
Queen Mary, University of London, 2013
132 pp
ISBN 978-0-90223-882-4
RRP £6.00 $US10.00

When I picked up this volume, I wondered whether it was worth reviewing for our Newsletter. But when I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down. It is the transcript of a Witness Seminar - a meeting involving a number of the pioneers of palliative medicine in the UK - sponsored by the Wellcome Trust’s History of Modern Biomedicine Research Group at Queen Mary, University of London. The cast is most impressive and includes (in alphabetical order) Sam Ahmedzai, Mary Baines, David Clark, Christina Faull, Ilora Finlay, Gillian Ford, Rob George, Geoffrey Hanks, Richard Hillier, Andrew Hoy, Barbara Monroe, Colin Murray Parkes, Robert Twycross, and Bee Wee, with Kenneth Calman in the Chair; an apology is noted from Derek Doyle, who did so much to progress the cause of palliative medicine in the UK, and whose wit would have probably livened up the meeting even more. In what is a delectable piece of oral history, here are the recollections (with more than a few amusing anecdotes thrown in) of how these people ‘got into’ palliative medicine, who sponsored and supported them, and some of the unbelievable obstacles they encountered.

And what takes the cake? The headline in the local press on the day Eric Wilkes opened St. Luke’s Hospice in Sheffield in 1971 - ‘Abandon hope, all ye who enter here’.

Janelle Yorke and June Roberts (Eds)
M & K Publishing, 2013
183 pp
ISBN 978-1-905539-63-5
RRP £26.00 $US41.00

This book is about the assessment and management of intractable breathlessness in primary care or in the patient’s home setting. It is focused on four conditions - COPD, heart failure, interstitial lung disease, and pulmonary hypertension - but there are also chapters on the physiology of breathing and breathlessness, as well as the non-pharmacological, psychological and pharmacological management of dyspnea. The last chapter is about how to deal with end-of-live breathlessness at home. I liked the way the information was set out, with appropriate use of lists and tables, and an effort seems to have been made not to make it too complicated. I think the book would be a valuable resource for doctors and nurses treating patients with dyspnea outside the hospital, but I thought it might also be valuable for junior doctors and nurses managing breathlessness in the in-patient palliative care setting.

Mitch Albom
Hyperion, 2012
222 pp
ISBN 978-1-4013-2278-6
RRP $US24.99 £9.09

From the author of the acclaimed Tuesdays With Morrie comes a fable about the meaning of time. Dor, the first to ever measure or count time, is sentenced to several thousand years of purgatory, before emerging into the present world. He becomes involved with two very different characters - one a teenage girl on the verge of suicide and the other a rich old coot who is dying but wants to live forever. I did not really feel drawn to the characters (be they good or bad people) and the plot was a bit predictable. I liked Albom’s short sentences and spare prose, but the presentation of key sentences in bold type, standing out like headings in the text, was an annoyance. Every day in palliative care, we see patients desperate for more time, or believing they deserve more time, so the fundamental question here is real. Perhaps the world (or at least the palliative care ward) might be a better place if more people appreciated the time they have. Very good marks for the idea; average marks for the presentation.

Dona Reese
Columbia University Press, 2013
348 pp
ISBN 978-0-231-134354
RRP $US40.50 £N/A $AU71.99

Review copy supplied by Footprint Books <www.footprint.com.au>

This is a view of the past, present and future of hospice social work in the USA, written by one who sounds to have been a significant player in shaping the field. It opens with chapters on the history of end-of-life care in the USA and the current status of social work in hospice. Reese then develops her model for social work in hospice at three different levels - micro (dealing with individuals), mezzo (working with families, groups and interdisciplinary teams), and macro (interventions at the organizational, community or societal levels). My impression was that the information was ‘all there’, but in places I found it difficult to read - ‘… goes beyond this perspective to see humans as inseparable from each other and nature, similar to the concept of ‘unity consciousness’ and consistent with perspectives of the highest level of spiritual development according to transpersonal theory.’ This may be bread and butter to students of social work, but it doesn’t aid the cohesion of the interdisciplinary team in palliative care if one group speaks a different tongue. The final chapters are about self-care (most appropriate), and future directions.

Roger Woodruff, MD (Australia)
September 2013

Dr. Woodruff is a Lifetime Member of the IAHPC Board and Past Chair. His bio may be found here.

Note for authors and publishers: 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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