Kim's Reviews > Final Exam: A Surgeon's Reflections on Mortality

Final Exam by Pauline W. Chen
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May 12, 2010

really liked it

The author, a surgeon, writes about death from a doctor's point of view, which is to say, a point of view completely uncomfortable with death. She recognizes this, and has spent the past few decades of her practice moving toward a place where she can truly be with people at the end of their life, rather than seeing death as a failure of her attempts to cure them. She touches on the policy and educational changes in the medical community to better address end of life and palliative care issues, and she comments on some patients and their disease course which have illuminated her thoughts on the topic, but this book is not a compilation of facts and case studies. Rather, it borders on reading someone's beautifully written diary as they grapple with mortality. I read this book near the one year anniversary of my own mother's death, a death in which doctors were wholly absent -- they simply all disappeared. I hate them for that. I guess they felt that they couldn't cure my mom, so they left the scene, thinking that there was nothing else for them to do. There was a lot for them to do. Instead, a few of us had to pick up all the pieces because they abandoned ship. I will never forgive my mom's doctors for doing that to us. This book, I think, recognizes that exact point: that sense of abandonment that doctors are prone to do, and offers one doctor's mental wrestling with overcoming those tendencies.
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