Friday, March 31, 2017
Well that was depressing
Look, I was never under the impression that reading On Death and Dying was going to be a cheery ride as I skipped through the park and butterflies landed in my hair. Death is no fun. But I didn't realize exactly how hard the patient interviews would hit me.
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross's seminal work has been transformed by society. We get smacked in the face with the five stages of grief in everything from TV shows to memes and on such widely varied topics as actual death to dropping an ice-cream cone. What's fascinating to me is that all the pop-cultural interpretations of the five stages are about the loss of something else - you lose your snack, you lose your dog, you lose the opportunity to yell at your boss, your team loses its draft pick in a trade. Whatever. But the book is about the loss of self - it isn't about how you react when a parent or a dog dies, it's about how patients react upon learning that they are terminally ill and themselves going to die SOON.
And it's actually a pretty helpful read. My current household situation involves living with someone who has recently had issues with an illness similar in severity to many of the patients Kübler-Ross spoke with and her book has been very helpful to me as I've attempted to make this person more comfortable after returning from the hospital. If you've dealt with sick people or you've dealt with dying people and you anticipate dealing with sick or dying people again I'd strongly recommend reading On Death and Dying because it will do *loads* to help you empathize with people who are ill and might help you to be a better advocate for your family members when they are ill.
If you are any kind of medical student or psych student or anything along those lines I would recommend reading the book as an excellent reminder that until shockingly recently medicine was completely fucked up. Kübler-Ross is one of the earlier people to put forward the idea that dying patients should be informed that they were dying and that you shouldn't tell the patient's family instead of the patient. The lack of patient autonomy that Kübler-Ross was fighting with the publication of this book is stunning when we look at it from the modern perspective of informed consent for all medical procedures and medications.
If you think the book might be too sad for you I'll just tell you now that skipping the interviews makes it a lot easier to swallow, but you miss out on a lot of what allows you to empathize with these people who were brave enough to share their stories with some curious scientists.
Here's where you can find a recent edition of On Death and Dying.
Here's where you can read it as a PDF!