IAHPC book reviews

2014; Volume 15, No 6, June

IAHPC book reviews

By Dr. Roger Woodruff

Palliative Care book of the month

A Meditation on Life and Death
Erica Brown
Simon & Schuster, 2013
340 pp
ISBN 978-1-4516-4922-2
RRP $US26.00 £15.41 $AU29.99

Review copy supplied by Simon & Schuster Australia

Dr. Erica Brown is a writer and educator who works as the scholar-in-residence for the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. In this well-researched book, she sets out to show that, whatever culture or faith you come from, there are things that can be done that make death easier for both the dying and those who remain behind. That said, the rest of the book is testament to it being easier said than done.

After her cousin’s sudden death, she describes her interaction with the Death Industry, including what you can get on-line. There is a chapter on philosophical ponderings about the afterlife and the interpretation of near-death experiences and another concerning sanctifying the body in death, which covers a wide range of the customs and rituals that are part of burial or cremation. Along the way, she provides very interesting descriptions of the beliefs and customs regarding death in Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, and Islam, to mention a few. She discusses suicide, including the elective suicide that can be bought in Switzerland, but concludes strongly that ‘suicide is not a happy death, not for the elector or the survivors.’ In the chapter on the human reactions to dying, she interposes ‘inspiration’ amongst Elisabeth Kubler Ross’ stages; I wasn’t sure about this, but I think it depends on what you read into the word ‘inspiration’. She provides an amusing description of bucket lists, but demonstrates that what is needed more is help with unfinished emotional business. There are discussions about last words, last gifts, last apologies and what those left behind can learn from the process of grieving. And there is an appendix with recommendations for writing an ethical will or life legacy.

This book is both readable and informative. For those who work in palliative care, I could not help but think that it provided a wealth of information and insight into how we might better help our patients and their families coping with dying.

Other Reviews

PAIN A Political History
Keith Wailoo
Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014
284 pp
ISBN 978-1-4214-1365-5
RRP $US29.95 £19.50

I wasn’t sure what a palliative care doctor was doing reading about the political history of pain, but I soon found it hard to put down. Closeted in my clinical world, I guess I was largely unaware of the political battles being fought over issues related to pain. Wailoo traces the differences on these matters between the liberals and conservatives in the U.S. back to the 18th and 19th centuries, although this book is primarily about what has happened since 1945.

Wailoo starts with the origins and results of Eisenhower’s conflicted disability politics, and moves on to the expansion of liberal government in the name of remedying pain, Reagan’s attempt to purge the disability rolls in the 1980s and the curious rise of ‘fetal pain’, the relationship between the politics of pain and physician-assisted suicide in the Clinton (‘I feel your pain’) era, and the effects of deregulation of Big Pharma.

For one who treats individual patients on a daily basis, this book provides a much broader, population-wide view of the political and legal wars over the treatment of pain, to which are firmly attached the on-going row about abortion (and ‘fetal pain’), as well as the clamour about physician-assisted suicide (being ‘death with dignity’ or death without pain or suffering). It is about ‘the slippery and sometimes deceitful political claims about people in pain made in the name of liberalism and conservatism…and why they so often turn the pain of others into political theater.’

Anyone who works in palliative care and has a broader interest in the political and legal aspects of pain management and physician-assisted suicide will enjoy this book. I thought it was well-written and readable.

Keith Wailoo is the Townsend Martin Professor of History and Public Affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.

The Comprehensive Resource on Geriatric Health and Social Care
Capezuti, Malone, Katz and Mezey (eds.)
Springer Publishing, 2014
815 pp
ISBN 978-0-8261-3735-7
RRP $US195.00 £170.00

Set out in 273 chapters from American Association of Retired Persons to Xerostomia, this is an impressive collection of information about gerontology. Some chapters suffered from the brevity that is common to such compendia, but there is a list of key references at the end of each chapter as well as a list of web resources. There could perhaps have been greater use of tables and lists—where they have been used, they provide easy access to additional information. Similarly, the section on pain scales would have been enhanced by illustrations showing the scales and this applies to assessment tools described in other chapters. I liked the chapter on the science of signage—how to design user-friendly signage that is useful to older persons; it’s more a distillation of common sense than rocket science, but I now know why cupboard doors should be the same color as the walls. This would be a useful back-up reference for anyone studying gerontology and geriatrics and, given that many patients seen on hospice and palliative care services are elderly, it would also be useful to those doing courses in palliative care.

Stories to Inspire a Peaceful Passage
Lauren Van Scoy
Transmedia Books, 2012
182 pp
ISBN 978-0-9834511-9-8
RRP $US17.95 £11.22

Dr. Van Scoy, an Intensive Care specialist, presents six stories of people and their families dealing with life-threatening and terminal illnesses, illustrating some of the many difficulties that may be encountered, showing how they may be resolved or avoided, or how they may boil out of control. In the introduction, she says the book is not about advance directives, but contains stories to inspire people to think ahead or help them in their struggles with mortality. I think she means the book is not about a particular piece of paper, but it is about thinking and talking (and perhaps filling out a bit of paper) in advance, in order to avoid so many of the problems associated with terminal illness. The stories are well told and will help some people think about what their own wishes are.

Roger Woodruff, MD (Australia)
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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