“A profound exploration of what it means for all of us to live—and to die—with dignity and purpose.” —People
“Visceral and lyrical.” —The Atlantic
As the American born daughter of immigrants, Dr. Sunita Puri knew from a young age that the gulf between her parents' experiences and her own was impossible to bridge, save for two elements: medicine and spirituality. Between days spent waiting for her mother, an anesthesiologist, to exit the OR, and evenings spent in conversation with her parents about their faith, Puri witnessed the tension between medicine's impulse to preserve life at all costs and a spiritual embrace of life's temporality. And it was that tension that eventually drew Puri, a passionate but unsatisfied medical student, to palliative medicine--a new specialty attempting to translate the border between medical intervention and quality-of-life care.
Interweaving evocative stories of Puri's family and the patients she cares for, That Good Night is a stunning meditation on impermanence and the role of medicine in helping us to live and die well, arming readers with information that will transform how we communicate with our doctors about what matters most to us.
Puri, medical director of palliative medicine at Keck Hospital at the University of Southern California, gives a compassionate account of her role helping patients and their families make end-of-life decisions. When Puri was a child in L.A., her anesthesiologist mother and engineer father, both Indian immigrants, taught their children about the transient nature of life, the inevitability of change, and the journey of the soul. Puri took these lessons to heart, recognizing the complementary paths of science and spirituality, and as a physician drew upon the strength, support, and wisdom of her family's beliefs and values honoring life and accepting death to help her patients make "eleventh-hour" choices. The decisions that must be made for instance, whether to administer CPR or take a relative off a ventilator are heart-wrenching. Yet there are also moments of grace and humor (she cries with a grieving daughter; plays along with an ailing man who jokes that his swollen belly is a pregnancy). In talking with families and patients, Puri comes to realize the vital importance of discussing difficult topics before a crisis arises, and making decisions based upon what best serves the patient's dignity and quality of life. Communication, she concludes, is the basis of the doctor-patient relationship, perhaps especially so in the final days of life. This is a powerful memoir, which Puri narrates with honesty, poise, and empathy.