If I were a more avid, public, and maybe younger Facebook user, I might start a fan club for Dr. Atul Gawande and invite lots of adult children who are aging parent caregivers to join. Ever since he started writing, Dr. Gawande has demystified medicine, hospitals, surgery, public health, and public policy. In my household the weekly New Yorker magazine is only around for a few minutes before the table of contents is scanned for Dr. Gawande’s name, and once discovered, there follows intense discussion about who can read his article first.
When a person is caregiving or otherwise helping aging parents, the medical world — real or metaphorical — is never far away. Yet it always feels distant. Dr. Gawande’s writing makes that world seem closer, less of a mystery, and more personal. He writes about committed, intense, but fallible physicians — they do not issue magic wands in medical school — who wish they could heal every patient. For me this characterization is the most significant message in Complications, the book he wrote in 2002 (aside from the chapter on a flesh-eating bacterial infection).
Skipping ahead a few articles and books, The Checklist Manifesto was published in 2009. Visit a hospital on your own or with an aging parent and observe how hand washing has become a big deal. Dr. Gawande writes about many other things that can reduce hospital acquired infections — that is all those other things on the checklist; however, at the end of his book the reader knows it is OK to be assertive and use hand washing as a personal protective public health policy.
And then there is “The Cost Conundrum,” published in The New Yorker magazine in June 2009, a few months before The Checklist Manifesto. We had relatives who lived in places like McAllen, Texas where going to doctors feels like a social activity. A week did not go by without a few visits to doctors or medical tests. Dr. Gawande’s article tells me that we can help our aging parents with medical issues by “why” but also “why not.” “The Cost Conundrum” is required reading for adult children helping their parents safely navigate through medical worlds.
A Few Gawande Links
- NPR Morning Edition story
- University of Chicago Medical School Commencement Address re-published in the June 2009 New Yorker Magazine
- Dr Gawande talking about his book, Better, a Surgeon’s Notes on Performance, in an Authors@Google presentation (embedded below)