Cheating Death by Sanjay Gupta

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Title: Cheating Death
Author: Sanjay Gupta
Genre: Nonfiction, science, medical memoir
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing, 2010
Source: Husband's

This book is CNN medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta's description of several different medical techniques and phenomena that defy traditional views and practices concerning death. He describes hypothermia treatments, a new version of CPR, near death experiences, miraculous and seemingly spontaneous cancer healings, and coma states.

I think from a medical standpoint this book is a great idea. Having just started nursing school this week, my mind is already swirling with the different agencies, brochures, and prerogatives to increase individuals' roles in their own healthcare decisions. An educated patient is more likely to understand the reasons for treatment, be compliant, and also be on the lookout for healthcare provider errors (which are much more common than they should be). Describing medical innovations in a mainstream book is in my opinion a great way to augment that process, the downside being that sometimes patients educate themselves on treatments but not their own issues and request treatments that are not applicable to their condition or good choices for their individual medical history. Gupta describes the different medical techniques in his book clearly and simply (but not simplistically). He explains physiological processes and medical procedures in layman's terms, giving enough information to accurately describe the situation but not drowning the reader in complicated jargon.

From an organizational standpoint I had one or two small issues. First of all, Gupta begins his book by describing some strictly biological techniques, and then about halfway through the book discusses some situations that are more spiritual and psychological. This transition seemed a bit random to me - at first I was reading about equipment costs and biological reasons for hypothermia to work for cardiac arrest patients and the next I was reading descriptions of patients in a coma walking down toward that shining light. I appreciated Gupta's perspectives on the spiritual and psychological phenomena (and possible biological explanations) he has observed in medicine, but I felt that the transition could have been less jarring. I also didn't love Gupta's description of Barazanji, a man who is followed throughout the chapters detailing the different medical techniques. At times Gupta would leave the patient he was describing and return to Barazanji, relating the medical technique to him. I think this could have worked quite well, but some of the references were not relevant, and I felt jarred as I tried to remember who Barazanji was.

Overall, however, this was an interesting book describing some of the more controversial methods to cheat death and also evaluating the spiritual and biological experiences of individuals nearing death. The book is very accessible to those who do not have extensive medical knowledge, and will provide some very strange and fascinating facts.

3 stars

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