Sunday, January 24, 2016

"The Fragile Species" - #2

Continuing excerpts from “The Fragile Species” by Lewis Thomas :  “Even so, aging will still be aging, and a strange process posing problems for every human being, and perhaps the approach of medical specialists should become less reductionist and more general.  They may wish to view the whole person rather than concentrating on the singularities of individual diseases. The word ‘holistic’ was invented in the 1920’s by General Jan Smuts to provide shorthand for the almost self-evident truth that any living organism, and perhaps any collection of organisms, is something more than the sum of its working parts.  I wish holism could remain a respectable term for scientific usage, but, alas, it has fallen in bad company.  Science itself is really a holistic enterprise, and no other word would serve quite as well to describe it.  Years ago, the mathematician Poincare wrote, ‘Science is built up with facts as a house is with stones, but a collection of facts is no more a science than a heap of stones is a house.’  The word is becoming trendy, a buzzword, almost lost to science.”

Friday, January 22, 2016

Lewis Thomas - thoughts on aging from "The Fragile Species"

One of my favorite essayists is Lewis Thomas.  He wrote a long series of essays about the human condition many of which were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.  Subsequently, they were collected in three wonderful volumes:  The Fragile Species, The Lives of a Cell, and The Medusa and the Snail.  Over the next several days, I’ll be sharing some of his thinking about aging.  Educated at Princeton and Harvard Medical School, Thomas held many prestigious professorships in pediatrics, medicine, pathology, and biology:
“It is abundantly clear that the problem of aging is a proper field for scientific study and one of the broadest of all fields in human biology.  The array of specific questions to be asked is long and impressive, and each question is a hard one requiring close and attentive scrutiny by the best practitioners of basic science and clinical medicine.  And, as the answers come in, there is no doubt that medicine will be able to devise new technologies for coping with the things that go wrong in the process of aging.  This is an optimistic appraisal but not overly so, provided we are careful with that phrase “things that go wrong.”  There is indeed an extensive pathology of aging, one thing after another goes wrong, failure after failure, and the cumulative impact of these failures is what most people have in mind and fear as the image of aging.  But behind these ailments, often obscured by individual pathologies, is a quite different phenomenon: normal aging, which is not a disease at all, but a stage of living that cannot be averted or bypassed except in one totally unsatisfactory way.  Nonetheless, we regard aging these days as a sort of slow death with everything going wrong.”  Ed. note – more to follow later

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

A thank you letter to David Bowie from a palliative care doctor

Palliative care providers sometimes have a hard time being heard - yet alone listened to in the cacophony of hospital rhythms.  Yet they often provide the needed holistic approach in caring for us nearing life's end.  This British doctor was taken not only with David Bowie's music but also his approach at death's door:
"Your death at home. Many people I talk to as part of my job think that death predominantly happens in hospitals, in very clinical settings, but I presume you chose home and planned this in some detail. This is one of our aims in palliative care, and your ability to achieve this may mean that others will see it as an option they would like fulfilled. The photos that emerged of you some days after your death, were said to be from the last weeks of your life. I do not know whether this is correct, but I am certain that many of us would like to carry off a sharp suit in the same way that you did in those photos. You looked great, as always, and it seemed in direct defiance of all the scary monsters that the last weeks of life can be associated with." 

The funeral as we know it is becoming a relic — just in time for a death boom

By   Karen Heller April 15 Ed note: Funerals are changing in ways that will bring culture shock and a shake of the head of s...