Death is unavoidable, but a subject that few want to discuss, even doctor to patient.
Dr. Sunita Puri, medical director of palliative care at USC, in her new memoir, “That Good Night: Life and Medicine in the Eleventh Hour,” explores her childhood as the daughter of Indian immigrants living in Palos Verdes and why she practices palliative care, which helps patients cope with the physical as well as the emotional issues regarding serious illness and the end of life.
“It's not only about death ... it's about how we contend with mortality so that we live our fullest lives,” said Puri, who will be discussing her book at Pages bookstore in Manhattan Beach on Thursday, March 7.
Puri said one reason she wrote “That Good Night” was to make sense of the contradiction of being raised in a home where the idea of morality was accepted. Her family believed "that part of life's beauty is its finitude.” But, she worked in the medical field where the discussion “was very much avoided.”
The biggest reason Puri wrote the book is that every day she works with patients and families “during times of vulnerability and transition that we all face as human beings.”
“I didn’t feel as though many of my patients and families and fellow doctors really had a guide on how to talk about these issues, how to face them, how to endure the suffering that is really the common experience of humanity at the end of life,” Puri said. “So I wrote the book kind of for a bigger purpose, which was really to share stories (of patients) … I truly believe their stories can help others and can help change our culture around how we can communicate and think about death and dying because it's coming for all of us.”
Puri said colleagues “sometime dance around the truth,” which can give “people false hope.”
“It's taking away their ability to make informed decisions on how they want to spend their precious time,” she said.
Puri said at heart she is a writer, but writing “That Good Night” was at times a “lonely endeavor” and emotionally taxing, yet therapeutic. In the end, she hopes she honors her upbringing and at the same time honors the patients she has lost or are currently struggling.
“It was my way in paying tribute to just a few of the many incredible people I get to take care of,” Puri said.
Puri will appear at Pages bookstore, located at 904 Manhattan Ave. in Manhattan Beach, on Thursday, March 7, beginning at 7 p.m.
For more information, visit pagesabookstore.com.