30+ quotes from Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande

Quotes from Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

Atul Gawande ·  297 pages

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“In the end, people don't view their life as merely the average of all its moments—which, after all, is mostly nothing much plus some sleep. For human beings, life is meaningful because it is a story. A story has a sense of a whole, and its arc is determined by the significant moments, the ones where something happens. Measurements of people's minute-by-minute levels of pleasure and pain miss this fundamental aspect of human existence. A seemingly happy life maybe empty. A seemingly difficult life may be devoted to a great cause. We have purposes larger than ourselves.”
― Atul Gawande, quote from Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End


“A few conclusions become clear when we understand this: that our most cruel failure in how we treat the sick and the aged is the failure to recognize that they have priorities beyond merely being safe and living longer; that the chance to shape one’s story is essential to sustaining meaning in life; that we have the opportunity to refashion our institutions, our culture, and our conversations in ways that transform the possibilities for the last chapters of everyone’s lives.”
― Atul Gawande, quote from Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End


“Being mortal is about the struggle to cope with the constraints of our biology, with the limits set by genes and cells and flesh and bone. Medical science has given us remarkable power to push against these limits, and the potential value of this power was a central reason I became a doctor. But again and again, I have seen the damage we in medicine do when we fail to acknowledge that such power is finite and always will be. We’ve been wrong about what our job is in medicine. We think our job is to ensure health and survival. But really it is larger than that. It is to enable well-being. And well-being is about the reasons one wishes to be alive. Those reasons matter not just at the end of life, or when debility comes, but all along the way. Whenever serious sickness or injury strikes and your body or mind breaks down, the vital questions are the same: What is your understanding of the situation and its potential outcomes? What are your fears and what are your hopes? What are the trade-offs you are willing to make and not willing to make? And what is the course of action that best serves this understanding?”
― Atul Gawande, quote from Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End


“You may not control life's circumstances, but getting to be the author of your life means getting to control what you do with them.”
― Atul Gawande, quote from Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End


“Our ultimate goal, after all, is not a good death but a good life to the very end.”
― Atul Gawande, quote from Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End


“Death is the enemy. But the enemy has superior forces. Eventually, it wins. And in a war that you cannot win, you don’t want a general who fights to the point of total annihilation. You don’t want Custer. You want Robert E. Lee, someone who knows how to fight for territory that can be won and how to surrender it when it can’t, someone who understands that the damage is greatest if all you do is battle to the bitter end.”
― Atul Gawande, quote from Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End


“how we seek to spend our time may depend on how much time we perceive ourselves to have.”
― Atul Gawande, quote from Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End


“It is not death that the very old tell me they fear. It is what happens short of death—losing their hearing, their memory, their best friends, their way of life. As Felix put it to me, “Old age is a continuous series of losses.” Philip Roth put it more bitterly in his novel Everyman: “Old age is not a battle. Old age is a massacre.”
― Atul Gawande, quote from Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End


“We’ve been wrong about what our job is in medicine. We think our job is to ensure health and survival. But really it is larger than that. It is to enable well-being.”
― Atul Gawande, quote from Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End


“Courage is strength in the face of knowledge of what is to be feared or hoped. Wisdom is prudent strength.”
― Atul Gawande, quote from Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End


“In fact, he argued, human beings need loyalty. It does not necessarily produce happiness, and can even be painful, but we all require devotion to something more than ourselves for our lives to be endurable. Without it, we have only our desires to guide us, and they are fleeting, capricious, and insatiable. They provide, ultimately, only torment.”
― Atul Gawande, quote from Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End


“Life is choices, and they are relentless. No sooner have you made one choice than another is upon you.”
― Atul Gawande, quote from Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End


“The only way death is not meaningless is to see yourself as part of something greater: a family, a community, a society. If you don’t, mortality is only a horror. But if you do, it is not. Loyalty, said Royce, “solves the paradox of our ordinary existence by showing us outside of ourselves the cause which is to be served, and inside of ourselves the will which delights to do this service, and which is not thwarted but enriched and expressed in such service.” In more recent times, psychologists have used the term “transcendence” for a version of this idea. Above the level of self-actualization in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, they suggest the existence in people of a transcendent desire to see and help other beings achieve their potential.”
― Atul Gawande, quote from Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End


“In the end, people don’t view their life as merely the average of all of its moments—which, after all, is mostly nothing much plus some sleep. For human beings, life is meaningful because it is a story. A story has a sense of a whole, and its arc is determined by the significant moments, the ones where something happens. Measurements of people’s minute-by-minute levels of pleasure and pain miss this fundamental aspect of human existence. A seemingly happy life may be empty. A seemingly difficult life may be devoted to a great cause. We have purposes larger than ourselves. Unlike your experiencing self—which is absorbed in the moment—your remembering self is attempting to recognize not only the peaks of joy and valleys of misery but also how the story works out as a whole. That is profoundly affected by how things ultimately turn out. Why would a football fan let a few flubbed minutes at the end of the game ruin three hours of bliss? Because a football game is a story. And in stories, endings matter. Yet we also recognize that the experiencing self should not be ignored. The peak and the ending are not the only things that count. In favoring the moment of intense joy over steady happiness, the remembering self is hardly always wise. “An inconsistency is built into the design of our minds,” Kahneman observes. “We have strong preferences about the duration of our experiences of pain and pleasure. We want pain to be brief and pleasure to last. But our memory … has evolved to represent the most intense moment of an episode of pain or pleasure (the peak) and the feelings when the episode was at its end. A memory that neglects duration will not serve our preference for long pleasure and short pains.” When our time is limited and we are uncertain about how best to serve our priorities, we are forced to deal with the fact that both the experiencing self and the remembering self matter. We do not want to endure long pain and short pleasure. Yet certain pleasures can make enduring suffering worthwhile. The peaks are important, and so is the ending.”
― Atul Gawande, quote from Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End


“The problem with medicine and the institutions it has spawned for the care of the sick and the old is not that they have had an incorrect view of what makes life significant. The problem is that they have had almost no view at all. Medicine’s focus is narrow. Medical professionals concentrate on repair of health, not sustenance of the soul. Yet—and this is the painful paradox—we have decided that they should be the ones who largely define how we live in our waning days.”
― Atul Gawande, quote from Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End


“Culture has tremendous inertia,” he said. “That’s why it’s culture. It works because it lasts. Culture strangles innovation in the crib.”
― Atul Gawande, quote from Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End


“Measurements of people’s minute-by-minute levels of pleasure and pain miss this fundamental aspect of human existence. A seemingly happy life may be empty. A seemingly difficult life may be devoted to a great cause. We have purposes larger than ourselves. Unlike your experiencing self—which is absorbed in the moment—your remembering self is attempting to recognize not only the peaks of joy and valleys of misery but also how the story works out as a whole.”
― Atul Gawande, quote from Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End


“Modernization did not demote the elderly. It demoted the family. It gave people—the young and the old—a way of life with more liberty and control, including the liberty to be less beholden to other generations. The veneration of elders may be gone, but not because it has been replaced by veneration of youth. It’s been replaced by veneration of the independent self. *   *   *”
― Atul Gawande, quote from Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End


“Your chances of avoiding the nursing home are directly related to the number of children you have,”
― Atul Gawande, quote from Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End


“All we ask is to be allowed to remain the writers of our own story. That story is ever changing. Over the course of our lives, we may encounter unimaginable difficulties. Our concerns and desires may shift. But whatever happens, we want to retain the freedom to shape our lives in ways consistent with our character and loyalties. This is why the betrayals of body and mind that threaten to erase our character and memory remain among our most awful tortures. The battle of being mortal is the battle to maintain the integrity of one’s life—to avoid becoming so diminished or dissipated or subjugated that who you are becomes disconnected from who you were or who you want to be.”
― Atul Gawande, quote from Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End


“Sometimes we can offer a cure, sometimes only a salve, sometimes not even that. But whatever we can offer, our interventions, and the risks and sacrifices they entail, are justified only if they serve the larger aims of a person’s life. When we forget that, the suffering we inflict can be barbaric. When we remember it the good we do can be breathtaking.”
― Atul Gawande, quote from Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End


“A landmark 2010 study from the Massachusetts General Hospital had even more startling findings. The researchers randomly assigned 151 patients with stage IV lung cancer, like Sara’s, to one of two possible approaches to treatment. Half received usual oncology care. The other half received usual oncology care plus parallel visits with a palliative care specialist. These are specialists in preventing and relieving the suffering of patients, and to see one, no determination of whether they are dying or not is required. If a person has serious, complex illness, palliative specialists are happy to help. The ones in the study discussed with the patients their goals and priorities for if and when their condition worsened. The result: those who saw a palliative care specialist stopped chemotherapy sooner, entered hospice far earlier, experienced less suffering at the end of their lives—and they lived 25 percent longer. In other words, our decision making in medicine has failed so spectacularly that we have reached the point of actively inflicting harm on patients rather than confronting the subject of mortality.”
― Atul Gawande, quote from Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End


“The battle of being mortal is the battle to maintain the integrity of one’s life—to avoid becoming so diminished or dissipated or subjugated that who you are becomes disconnected from who you were or who you want to be.”
― Atul Gawande, quote from Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End


“People with serious illness have priorities besides simply prolonging their lives. Surveys find that their top concerns include avoiding suffering, strengthening relationships with family and friends, being mentally aware, not being a burden on others, and achieving a sense that their life is complete.”
― Atul Gawande, quote from Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End


“If end-of-life discussions were an experimental drug, the FDA would approve it.”
― Atul Gawande, quote from Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End


“We're always trotting out some story of a ninety-seven-year-old who runs marathons, as if such cases were not miracles of biological luck but reasonable expectations for all. Then, when our bodies fail to live up to this fantasy, we feel as if we somehow have something to apologize for.”
― Atul Gawande, quote from Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End


“A nurse has five seconds to make a patient like you and trust you. It’s in the whole way you present yourself. I do not come in saying, ‘I’m so sorry.’ Instead, it’s: ‘I’m the hospice nurse, and here’s what I have to offer you to make your life better. And I know we don’t have a lot of time to waste.”
― Atul Gawande, quote from Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End


“For all but our most recent history, death was a common, ever-present possibility. It didn’t matter whether you were five or fifty. Every day was a roll of the dice.”
― Atul Gawande, quote from Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End


“Whenever serious sickness or injury strikes and your body or mind breaks down, the vital questions are the same: What is your understanding of the situation and its potential outcomes? What are your fears and what are your hopes? What are the trade-offs you are willing to make and not willing to make? And what is the course of action that best serves this understanding?”
― Atul Gawande, quote from Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End


“Several years ago, researchers at the University of Minnesota identified 568 men and women over the age of seventy who were living independently but were at high risk of becoming disabled because of chronic health problems, recent illness, or cognitive changes. With their permission, the researchers randomly assigned half of them to see a team of geriatric nurses and doctors—a team dedicated to the art and science of managing old age. The others were asked to see their usual physician, who was notified of their high-risk status. Within eighteen months, 10 percent of the patients in both groups had died. But the patients who had seen a geriatrics team were a quarter less likely to become disabled and half as likely to develop depression. They were 40 percent less likely to require home health services. These were stunning results. If scientists came up with a device—call it an automatic defrailer—that wouldn’t extend your life but would slash the likelihood you’d end up in a nursing home or miserable with depression, we’d be clamoring for it. We wouldn’t care if doctors had to open up your chest and plug the thing into your heart. We’d have pink-ribbon campaigns to get one for every person over seventy-five. Congress would be holding hearings demanding to know why forty-year-olds couldn’t get them installed. Medical students would be jockeying to become defrailulation specialists, and Wall Street would be bidding up company stock prices. Instead, it was just geriatrics. The geriatric teams weren’t doing lung biopsies or back surgery or insertion of automatic defrailers. What they did was to simplify medications. They saw that arthritis was controlled. They made sure toenails were trimmed and meals were square. They looked for worrisome signs of isolation and had a social worker check that the patient’s home was safe. How do we reward this kind of work? Chad Boult, the geriatrician who was the lead investigator of the University of Minnesota study, can tell you. A few months after he published the results, demonstrating how much better people’s lives were with specialized geriatric care, the university closed the division of geriatrics.”
― Atul Gawande, quote from Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End


About the author

Atul Gawande
Born place: in Brooklyn, New York, The United States
Born date November 5, 1965
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