In her last book, In the Midst of Life, Jennifer Worth tackles the subject of palliative care. After her work in the East End (remember her previous books Call the Midwife, Shadows of the Workhouse, and Farewell to the East End), Worth became a nurse on a cancer ward, so her thoughts on the end of life are full of her observations and experiences with changing perspectives on and standards of care for those who are dying.
As you’d expect, the stories in this book are not as lighthearted as some in her previous work, but Worth’s thoughtful and nuanced exploration of how we think about and prepare for death, and how we care for those who are dying are moving and insightful. I have had several conversations with people about these issues since reading the book, and am still thinking on some of the topics.
Mostly the book helped me to understand realities of issues that before I had not considered or had only seen in movies. What is it like when someone dies at home? What does resuscitation actually do and how effective is it? What does hospice care mean and what is the reasoning behind it? What happens when people die of old age or of cancer or of a heart attack? What are the philosophical and moral and spiritual ideas behind different methods of caring for people in the last stages of life?
What the author presented her experiences and opinions, I thought she did a good job of handling the issues with grace and balance. Worth did not hide the fact that her faith influenced her thinking on death and palliative care, but her discussion of the issues highlighted the way faith and philosophy inform the decisions rather than seeming prescriptive (in fact, I did not agree with some of her conclusions, shared faith notwithstanding, but I didn’t feel bashed). Many subjects surrounding death are taboo or just things healthy people never think about, and in some cases the public’s lack of understanding or forethought leads to bad policy or standards. This is the sort of book that might be helpful if you’re navigating end of life issues for a family member, but really it would be much better to read it well before you have to grapple with these things, so that you can have had time to think about them.
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