Decline: Unsafe At Any Speed

I’m rereading Atul Gawande’s wonderful book Being Mortal, in preparation for a panel discussion that I’m participating in this April. Gawande talks about the decline that everyone undergoes as they advance in age, and how at some point, the decline simply overwhelms our ability to adapt, and we can no longer care for ourselves.  I’ve been blessed with pretty good health so far, but a few years back, knee surgery led to the discovery of significant arthritis that prompted my orthopedist to recommend that I stop running, something that I had enjoyed for more than 25 years. I’m beginning to recognize fairly significant stiffness in my neck and shoulders, most likely indicative of arthritis there, too, and at some point, I wonder if my limited ability to play golf will be limited even further.  It seems to be a slow, inexorable spiral that I will try to stave off as long as possible.

In my practice of emergency medicine, I saw a different kind of decline—sudden, traumatic, often tragic—usually associated with trauma.  If you want to know what that’s like, I recommend Lee Woodruff’s In An Instant, the story of how her life changed forever when her husband, ABC reporter Bob Woodruff, was critically wounded while covering the Iraq War. I was fortunate to hear Lee Woodruff speak about her experience, and was very fortunate to meet her a couple of years back.  She is a wonderful speaker and writer, and an even better person.  She and her husband have created a foundation that is doing good all over the world, demonstrating the good that can emerge from tragedy, and from healing.

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