I’ve written ad nauseum about food allergies and sensitivities on this blog. Every time I think I’ve perhaps written too much about those topics, I take a peek at my web traffic statistics and note that the most popular posts on the site, week after week, are the practical ones with guides for either the six-food elimination diet (avoiding dairy, soy, egg, nuts, wheat, and fish) or the chylothorax diet (avoiding fat). I imagine that these posts are most commonly read by people struggling to feed themselves or someone they love. In my heart, I wrote them for a past version of myself, up in the night searching the web for information that, quite simply, didn’t exist.
At the holidays — these winter ones or others throughout all four seasons — it is hardest to be someone with food restrictions. Whether it is my daughter, who had to be on those two diets (among several others!) over the first nine years of her life, or me — dairy intolerant and severely allergic to fish — our family is incredibly aware of the limitations imposed on our social life by these restrictions. In my wider family, I love people who are allergic to nuts, who are on anti-inflammatory diets for auto-immune diseases, who are recovering from eating disorders, and who are diabetic. In all likelihood, there are others in my family with dietary needs that they keep to themselves. Yet somehow, we all manage to eat together, in each other’s homes and at restaurants, without too much disruption.
More has been written about Atul Gawande’s book Being Mortalthan on most other books on medicine and health, combined. It was reviewed in the New York Times, The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, and dozens of other newspapers, magazines, and other publications large and small. Its study of how the medical profession handles the process of dying — whether that process comes at the end of a full life or far too soon — has changed the national narrative. Doctors are coming around to the idea of supporting patients on their own terms as the end draws near, a concept which, to many, seems antithetical to their oaths. After all, are they not charged to “do no harm?” Gawande’s Being Mortal forces the discussion and redefinition of “harm.”
In an early chapter of the book, he writes that there are two kinds of courage. “The first,” he says, “is the courage to confront the reality of mortality—the courage to seek out the truth of what is to be feared and what is to be hoped when one is seriously ill. Such courage is difficult enough, but even more daunting is the second kind of courage—the courage to act on the truth we find.” As he shares the stories of his own patients — choosing between risky surgery and an uncomplicated but speedier end; finding ways to maintain autonomy as they age; managing varying levels of discomfort while remaining lucid and cogent — it is clear that all the scenarios where his courage to “act on the truth we find” are predicated on the first courage to “seek out the truth of what is to be feared.”
In other words, there can be no action toward healing without first determining how his patients define healing. Continue Reading…