Email this review


When Archie Hanlan, a sociology professor, learned he had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease), he started to tape a diary. Death didn't frighten him but dying did--ALS is a disabling disease--yet he determined to record his thoughts, partly for personal therapy, primarily for professional use. The diary itself is analytical and relatively unemotional. ""I see that I can keep on spilling my guts, as it were, only so long."" He notes the helpfulness of new gadgets, the frustrations of lost abilities, but concentrates on his disheartening reception by colleagues and medical personnel: visible signs of illness--a cane, a bandage--evoke more concern than direct statements about the course of his disease. The diary, edited after his death by a colleague, takes on more meaning when read along with the appendices: a postscript on ""Living with a Dying Husband"" by his social-worker wife; some transcripts of seminars he conducted; and a few articles he wrote on dying. These ably round out the picture, making the process more accessible. Hanlan likens the treatment of the dying to society's treatment of deviants, and repeatedly resents the insensitivities of professionals, the distancing of friends. Further, he seriously disputes Elizabeth Kubler-Ross' conclusions (""I think her theories. . . are all wet"") and regrets the universal application--or imposition--of those findings to all dying patients, maintaining that the ""stages"" are not so clearcut or sequential. (He also warns about the abuse of death-and-dying as a trendy subject.) ""I'm sick to death of hearing people describe it [his article on dying] as a 'moving' experience,"" he told an interdisciplinary audience. ""I came in the hope that. . . maybe some of you budding professionals might behave a little differently in the situation than you might have otherwise."" A more outward-looking account than most in the genre, worthwhile for its different slant.

Pub Date: Jan. 12th, 1978
Publisher: Doubleday