• December 19, 2014

Author’s killer wit infuses life into book about death

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Posted: Sunday, August 10, 2014 4:30 am

The good guy always has decent aim.

Even in the worst kind of shootout, Our Hero always manages to nail the bad guy, who clutches his chest, falls without hitting his head, gasps and flutters his eyelids before shutting them. Fingers go limp, cue the credits.

Television aside, you know that death isn’t that neat. It’s messy and chaotic, and in the new book “Shocked: Adventures in Bringing Back the Recently Dead” by David Casarett, M.D., you’ll see that that’s a very good thing.

Back when he was in medical school, David Casarett had a patient he’ll never forget. The man he calls “Joe” had a “massive heart attack” and died, but the resuscitation team brought him back to life.

Joe didn’t fare well — Casarett questioned his own quickness in calling code — and, because this happened some time after a 2-year-old had famously been successfully resuscitated after dying, Casarett wondered why the outcomes weren’t the same.

Now, as a hospice doctor, Casarett knows why: Lifesaving technology “can’t make (a patient) young and healthy. Neither can it cure the other maladies that come with age.” That doesn’t stop medical science from trying to restart the life of someone who’s died, but where is the edge of the envelope being pushed?

CPR and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation go back decades, if not centuries. Also back then, tying a body to a horse and jogging around a park was a recommended method of revival. That worked, as Casarett learned, but it was only a “partial success.”

Much of this, of course, has to do with a person’s heart. But it also depends on the methods of revival. It has to do with the way someone died, their mitochondria, how quickly (or if) the body was chilled, economics, and the proximity of lifesaving equipment. Squirrels might have answers for us. Long-term dry-ice storage via cryogenics, Casarett believes, will not.

But any way you look at it, technological advances mean that “death isn’t what it used to be.”

So you say that expiration is no laughing matter? It is when you’re reading “Shocked.” This book could turn any spectre of death into the Grin Reaper.

With a keenly-honed sense of true curiosity and a killer wit, the author gamely goes from mortuary to museum and back to look deeply at how “dead” is maybe not really dead these days. He melds old-school myth with modern technology to see why lives are saved (or not), and his irreverent comments and hilarious observances give the title of his book a wicked double meaning.

Death is a trip we’ll all take, and some of us will be lucky enough to return with minimal souvenirs. If you’re ready to laugh in the face of that, then reading “Shocked” should be your aim.

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