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  • Writer's pictureCorina Paraschiv

Atul Gawande's Genius

Atul Gawande was the first name I heard when I joined the field of healthcare.

It took me a while to understand what was special about his message. After all, it seemed so common-sense. Last week, as I was watching a documentary featuring him, I heard a dialogue between himself and the bereaved husband of one of his (ex-)patients - and that's when I got it.

" I came on the scene when she got diagnosed with a second cancer. In my mind, I was thinking I wouldn't offer the surgery because the lung cancer is going to take her life. And yet, I didn't feel like I could say that to you. I started talking about the experimental therapy that you were hoping to get on, and I remember saying something I now regret : Maybe that experimental therapy would work for the thyroid cancer too. The reason I regret it is because I knew it was a complete lie. I don't think I wasn't equipped to have that conversation at the time."

Source: PBS Frontline, Being Mortal documentary

In an interview with Frontline, Jennings, the journalist behind the Being Mortal documentary, shares: “It’s a very shocking thing, when you think about it. These doctors are the most whip-smart, competent people you’ve ever seen in your life. They care so much, and they have an amazing capacity to treat problems. But when there’s no cure for what ails us, and it’s clear that death is imminent, their medicine bags come up empty. They haven’t been trained on how to deal with the limits of their effectiveness.”

Death, dying, grief and loss - these are things that don't feel good when talking about them. There's an element of fear and discomfort for the person that you're talking to, because they have to face their possible death. But these elements also exist within yourself, because you're reminded of your own death, the recent death of a loved one, or the inevitable future death of someone you love.

Yet, courage is not what strikes me as I hear Dr. Atul Gawande's words to the husband. His humility is. To openly talk about how the experience felt, what mistakes occurred and how difficult the process was, that type of vulnerability - that's impressive.

In many ways, it is not what Atul Gawande said.

It's the fact he said it.

You can view the video above and other articles on the topic on Frontline's Being Mortal website: Click here

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