Saturday, July 7, 2018

Book Review: “Everything Happens For A Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved” by Kate Bowler

by Andrew Garcia (@ndyG83)

“We can focus on your comfort always means we’re giving up.” I can’t count how many times I’ve heard this sentiment from both patients and other healthcare providers, and to read it both frustrated and encouraged me at the same time. It’s frustrating because to know that what I do, as a palliative care physician, to help patients and their families during some of their darkest, scariest, heartbreaking and most painful moments, is seen as 'giving up' when it couldn’t be any more different. Yet, I also find it encouraging because it reminds me that there is much work left to be done on educating everyone on the importance of Hospice and Palliative Medicine (HPM).

Everything Happens For A Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved” is Duke Divinity history professor Kate Bowler’s personal perspective on how being diagnosed with cancer disrupted her "seemingly perfect life" and forced her to question what matters most when it comes down to the very real fact that she is dying. Her perspective is real and authentic, and at times unapologetic in its portrayal of her interactions with family, friends, and the medical community. For example, she writes, “She moves through the pleasantries with enough warmth to suggest that, at least on social occasions, she considers herself to be a nice person” describing an interaction during a post-op appointment with a PA. Stories of this nature are always a good reminder that what we do and how we are around patients has a larger impact on them than, we are able to anticipate, or even be aware of.

I find it’s always important to listen to a person’s story, especially when it comes to anything they consider “life-changing,” regardless if that is something we would also agree as being “life-changing.” Perspectives matter, and in healthcare, at times, we can get so caught up with our own perspectives we fail to realize other’s. This is something which doesn’t just affect healthcare providers and Kate is very aware of this as well when writing, “I keep having the same unkind thought – I am preparing for death and everyone else is on Instagram. I know that’s not fair – that life is hard for everyone – but I sometimes feel like I’m the only in the world who is dying”. In a sense she is right, our world is what we see and create with our own eyes and experiences, and Kate is the person “dying” in her world, so to see people who aren’t central to her story living as if nothing is wrong, well I can’t imagine just how frustrating that would be.

As an HPM clinician, empathy is central to what we do. We connect with patients on a different level than many other providers. We seek out - or better yet - we crave that personal connection with patients so we can know and understand what is important to them, who is important to them, and why. We can’t just know the who and what, we need the why, and Kate does an amazing job at sharing enough of her personal life story to allow us to understand why certain decisions in her care are made and also why she views certain interventions, or lack of, as “giving up”. It reminds us that people are a sum of their experiences, and the decisions they make when “push comes to shove” are largely based on those experiences.

I was a bit disappointed after finishing the book, since I assumed the book, given the title, would focus on what healthcare providers, and people in general, should avoid saying to patients dealing with any terminal illness. To my dismay, this was not the case. Sure there are interactions in the book that allow you to see just how “annoying” certain phrases can be, but the majority of the “pearls of wisdom” are left to an appendix at the end of the book. Like, why we should never say “Well, at least…” to any person (or patient) ever.

At the end of the day, if you are a person who is interested in reading the very personal journey of a person facing a very serious and life-changing cancer diagnosis, in an entertaining, heartbreaking yet reassuring and authentic manner, it is well worth the read.

Andrew Garcia MD completed a fellowship in Hospice and Palliative Care at the University of Minnesota in 2018. Interest in include health care disparities around end-of-life care. He likes to tweet at random and can be found on Twitter at @ndyG83

(You can see more of Kate Bowler's writing at her website and blog and podcast. You can also find her on Twitter (@KatecBowler). - Ed.)

(Note- Some links are Amazon Affiliate links which help support Pallimed. We also suggest for you to support your local bookstore. - Ed.)

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