Saturday, July 25, 2015

Oliver Sacks and the Art of Dying

Oliver Sacks dying of metastatic melanoma may have been just another story of misfortune in a world spilling over with bad news were it not for something that caught my eye towards the middle of his column. He lists symptoms of nausea, loss of appetite, chills and sweats and a pervasive tiredness, all cardinal signs of worsening cancer. He tells us he is still managing to swim although the pace is slower as he pauses to breathe. And then, he says something utterly obvious and yet, thoroughly remarkable: “I could deny it before but I know I am ill now.” Patients who can get even part of the way to acknowledging their mortality ultimately do themselves an untold favour. In a piece of achingly beautiful writing, this observation may bypass the typical outsider but as an oncologist, it struck me as the essence of what it takes to die well – the concession that all the well-intentioned therapy in the world can no longer prevent one from going down the irreversible trajectory of death....[T]he doctor who brought to us the man who mistook his wife for a hat isn’t about to mistake death for what it is. Now he reminds us with all the poise and dignity we have come to expect of him that there is value in embracing our mortality, that there is an art to dying, and before he goes, he might just show us how. For this and so much more, we owe him.
From the Guardian

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