Book Review
Paul Kalanithi
The Bodley Head, 228pp

Reviewed by Robin Osborne

In all respects except one, Dr Kalanithi’s memoir continues the tradition of fine authorship by US doctors of Indian descent. His most notable predecessors are Siddhartha Mukherjee, author of the Pulitzer Prize winning study of cancer, The Emperor of All Maladies, and the forthcoming The Gene, and Atul Gawande (Being Mortal, The Checklist Manifesto).

The key difference is that while the others still practice medicine and write, Kalanithi’s book has been published posthumously, following his death last year of metastatic lung cancer, at the age of just 37.

While the book is thus immensely sad, it is also an inspiring portrait of the mind and work of a brilliant man.

Northern NSW Local Health District is leading the state with a newly commenced, 200-person trial of a key part of its Integrated Care Strategy: Admission and Discharge Notifications (ADNs).

These notifications will immediately and automatically notify GPs when their patients are admitted to, or discharged from, local hospitals.

The trial is focused on selected chronic disease patients and capturing unplanned admissions to hospitals in the Tweed/Byron and Richmond areas, including the major referral hospitals, Lismore Base and Tweed, as well as the district hospitals, such as Casino, Ballina, Murwillumbah, and the soon to open Byron Central Hospital.

Results of the Notifications Trial will be shared with participating GPs - totalling 55 - and staff at the facilities. An evaluation after three months will be used to review and, where necessary, improve the service.

Wal Bailey in Platypus Park nature reserve

Wal Bailey, turning 80 at the time this article was being prepared, is a platypus whisperer, managing to entice the notoriously shy creatures up from their watery hiding places to the surface.

There, they swim around in circles, putting on a display that seems designed to provide him with maximum opportunity to take wonderful photographs.

Armed with a high-end Nikon digital SLR and telephoto lenses, Wal is happy to oblige, and the results of his encounters over the years are testament to the relationships he has developed with a creature considered by the early colonials to be implausibly bizarre.

Seeing one platypus in the wild is unusual enough - Charles Darwin was the first Britisher to see one, near Bathurst, in 1836. Seeing two of them mating is astounding, as is the fact that the habitat of the animals in question is not a remote outback setting but the aptly named Platypus Park nature reserve in Lismore’s crowded suburb of Goonellabah.

Maintaining our mental health is just as important as keeping physically fit. Professor Rob Donovan from Curtin University in WA has developed a health promotion campaign called Act-Belong-Commit (A-B-C)  based on extensive research.

This comprehensive campaign encourages individuals to take action to protect and promote their own mental wellbeing as well as organisations to provide mentally healthy activities to promote participation in those activities.  The A-B-C guidelines for positive mental health provide an approach that we can easily adopt:

Viktor Fankl's book cover

When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves - Viktor Frankl

The many obvious determinants of chronic disease as we age include a history of poor diet and inactivity, smoking, drug and alcohol use but also a less recognised contributor is having a lack of meaning in life. This was examined by the famous Austrian psychiatrist Viktor Frankl (1905-1997), founder of the so-called ‘Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy’, who pioneered a psychotherapeutic approach to treating depression that he called logotherapy (from the Greek ‘logos’ or meaning).

In his seminal 1959 book Man’s Search for Meaning Frankl, a WW2 holocaust survivor, wrote of how the survival of fellow Jewish prisoners related to the extent individuals had meaning or purpose in their lives. This could be, but was not necessarily, associated with spiritual or religious beliefs. It could also spring from attachments to family, friends, culture, occupation or interests.