Twelve Breaths: Lessons from the End of Life

by M-Rebeiro

Twelve breaths per minute is the respiratory rate of an adult at rest and is used in the title of the book edited by Lee Gutkind.

Near the end of someone’s life, many decisions need to be made by their family and friends as well as health care providers. Many of these choices are not easy: no one wants to authorize turning off a ventilator or pull the plug. Such decisions cause arguments, heartbreak and emotional trauma for those involved but personal stories are not often recounted due to not having a platform on which to share it.

Lee Gutkind’s Twelve Breaths a Minute is a collection of essays that captures the experiences of doctors, family members and dispatchers in the final moments of people in their care. Out of 500 essays received, 23 were published in the book. One essay describes the agony behind pulling the plug, while another tells of a doctor detailing his feelings surrounding the death of his first patient.

One Amazon review credited to Carol Donley, co-author of Literature and Aging: An Anthology, states: “This remarkable anthology collects the reflections of family members, nurses, physicians, and hospice workers as they care for the dying. Looking back on their experiences, they ponder what they did well and what they might have done differently or not done at all. They despair over flailing efforts to do something when that can only prolong misery. Biomedical technology is sometimes a blessing and sometimes a curse, and never sufficient in itself. Readers, who will at some time be in one or more of these caregiving roles, can learn important and valuable information from these reflections.”

The book is primarily available for purchase online.

Read more:

‘Twelve Breaths’: Lessons from the End of Life | NPR

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