Cover image for Handbook for mortals : guidance for people facing serious illness
Handbook for mortals : guidance for people facing serious illness
Lynn, Joanne, 1951-
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Publication Information:
New York : Oxford University Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
xiv, 242 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
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R726.8 .L96 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
R726.8 .L96 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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Modern medical technology has changed not only the way we live but also the way we die. Until two generations ago, people usually died suddenly, after an accident or serious illness. Now, most of us may expect our dying to take longer, to require more care, and to demand more forethought thanever before. A Handbook for Mortals is warmly addressed to all those who wish to approach the final years of life with greater awareness of what to expect and greater confidence about how to make the end of our lives a time of growth, comfort, and meaningful reflection. Written by Dr. Joanne Lynn and a team ofexpert physicians, this book provides equal measures of practical information and wise counsel. Readers will learn what decisions they will need to face, what choices are available to them, where to look for help, how to ease pain and other symptoms, what to expect with specific diseases, how thehealth-care system operates, and how the entire experience affects dying persons, their families, and their friends. Such practical information is indispensable. But equally important are the personal stories included here of how people have come to terms with dying, how they have faced their fearsand made their choices. These give us moving firsthand insights into a profoundly important process, one that is increasingly kept hidden in our culture. From down-to-earth advice on how to talk to your doctor to inspiring quotes from such writers as Emily Dickinson, W. H. Auden, Jane Kenyon, and others, A Handbook for Mortals encompasses the needs of both the body and the spirit in our final years.

Author Notes

Joanne Lynn, M.D. is Director, Center to Improve Care of the Dying, George Washington Medical School.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

This informative, practical guide stresses planning and working out ways to handle most of the likelihoods of the last months and days of life. Planning not only clarifies feelings but can also keep relationships alive and lead to the carrying out of exact desires. Crying is permissible--it is not weakness; nor is asking for a larger dose of a pain reliever: "The right dose of medicine is the dose that relieves the pain." Living wills and personal orders (e.g., for or against resuscitation and the use of feeding and breathing devices) are vital, and autopsies are important teaching devices. Finally, grieving doesn't necessarily follow a pattern. Nowhere does the book gloss over problems with philosophical unction; instead, it suggests actual words and questions that can be substituted for the usual meaningless well-wishing. Also, helpful images of the human spirit appear in the contributors' words, in literary excerpts, and in the many illustrations. This is one hospital and church library natural that should be in public libraries, too. --William Beatty

Library Journal Review

Designed for caregivers as well as patients, this book combines insights and inspiration with practical information and sensible suggestions for coping with critical, debilitating illnesses and the attendant problems such as accepting a new lifestyle, controlling pain, getting help, deciding on medical treatment, and enduring a loss. The death of a child, sudden death as the result of an accident, and similarly atypical instances are discussed briefly. Throughout, there are poignant excerpts from literature and case descriptions. Appendixes list organizations and sources of further information or assistance. Constance Joness R.I.P.: The Complete Book of Death and Dying (HarperCollins, 1997), which includes statistics, varying cultural practices, and more information resources, covers the topic more comprehensively. Nevertheless, this handbook, edited by the director of the Center To Improve Care for the Dying (, exudes a compassion and warmth that will appeal to individual readers.Margaret Norden, Marymount Univ. Lib., Arlington, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Rosalynn Carter
Forwardp. xiii
Introductionp. 1
1. Living With Serious Illnessp. 5
Am I "living with" or "dying of"?
How we die - then and now
Practice, practice, practice
Planning for uncertainty
The power of words
Not particularly interested in dying ...
Decisions to make, decisions to wait
No one "right way"
2. Enduring and Changingp. 15
Mourning your losses
Seeing yourself more clearly
Coping with changes in appearance
Taking care of yourself
Setting realistic goals
About relationships
Life is changing, but ...
3. Finding Meaningp. 27
Religion and relationships
Meaning and loss
Chaplains and others who can help
4. Helping Family Make Decisions and Give Carep. 39
Families deciding together
Family caregiving
How can a caregiver know if things are out of control?
What to do when the caregiver is overwhelmed
How do you find support groups?
Is there anything good about caregiving?
5. Getting the Help You Needp. 47
How to find help and advice
Call your local Office on Aging
Getting the help of a case manager
When your family needs a break
Getting your wishes followed at home
When you have help in your home
What to do when things don't go well
A guide to settings and services
How do I pay for these services?
6. Talking With Your Doctorp. 57
Know what you should expect from your doctor
Getting the most out of each visit with your doctor
Talking with your doctor -- special situations
When you are hesitant to ask questions
7. Controlling Painp. 71
Types of pain
Choosing the right pain medicine
Different ways to take pain medicine
Doses of pain medicine
A few rules about pain management
How often to take pain medicine
Fear of addiction
Side effects of pain medications
More medications that relieve pain
8. Managing Other Symptomsp. 85
"I feel very short of breath, as if I just can't breathe."
"I just can't eat."
"What are bed sores and how can I prevent them?"
"I want to stay awake; there's so much yet to do."
"Some people are so depressed, but I'm just so anxious."
"Should I be worried about getting confused or just being 'out of it'?"
"Remind me -- can anything good happen?"
9. Learning About Specific Illnessesp. 93
How long do I have?
Heart disease
Lung disease: emphysema and chronic bronchitis
Kidney failure
Liver failure
Dying while very old
10. Planning Aheadp. 119
"Why should I make plans now?"
"How can I be sure my choices will be followed?"
"What else matters with advance directives?"
"I had a living will in Ohio and now I'm in Florida. Do I need a new one?"
"What about planning for where to live when I am more disabled?"
"What about planning my finances?"
"Why do I need someone to speak for me?"
"My mother had a living will but the doctor ignored it. Is this common?"
"Is it legal to refuse life-sustaining treatment?"
"What else should I plan for?"
"All of this is sort of depressing, isn't it?"
11. Forgoing Medical Treatmentp. 129
Thinking about the issues
Stopping treatment
Time-limited trials
When food seems like love
The benefits of dehydration at the end of life
Tube feeding and the dementia patient
Artificial feeding and the permanently unconscious patient
Choosing to stop eating and drinking
Decisions about ventilators
Decisions about resuscitation
The many meanings of "DNR"
Other decisions to forgo treatments
12. Hastening Deathp. 139
Considering suicide: When you just can't face another day
"I want to spare my family."
"I want to be sure to die comfortably. Wouldn't suicide be a guarantee?"
"Don't the laws now allow physician-assisted suicide?"
"What about Oregon?"
"What are some of the arguments against legalizing physician-assisted suicide?"
"What arguments support physician-assisted suicide?"
"I don't trust doctors."
"Outside of Oregon, is there any physician-assisted suicide?"
13. Coping With Events Near Deathp. 149
"How will I know when death is getting close?"
"What should family and friends do when death is close?"
"Is it important to be there at the moment of death?"
"How does a family member know that the person has died?"
"What happens then?"
"Can family keep some information out of the obituary?"
"How long can one wait before burial or cremation?"
"Can family know what was learned in an autopsy before burial or cremation?"
"How does a family follow religious and other important traditions?"
"What does one do at a 'viewing' or at 'visiting hours'?"
"Are there things that must be done right after the burial or cremation?"
14. The Dying of Childrenp. 161
Sudden causes of childhood death
Fatal chronic illness with intact intellect
Rare disorders
Disorders with impaired consciousness
15. Dying Suddenlyp. 171
Natural disasters
Multiple deaths
During chronic illness or recuperation
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
Some special issues -- police, autopsy, and organ donation
Sudden death
16. Enduring Lossp. 179
Grieving your own dying
Telling your story
The cycle of grief
Experiencing grief -- family and loved ones
Living with loss of a loved one
Music and mourning
Do children grieve?
Children's understanding of death: what to expect and how to help
What do you do to comfort a child?
Reinvesting in life after the loss of someone you love
17. Additional Resourcesp. 195
General information and resources for reform
Personal resources
Acknowledgmentsp. 220
Indexp. 229