BOOKWORM: Book reveals medical advancements

“Cheating Death” by Dr. Sanjay Gupta, c. 2009, Wellness Central, $24.99, 282 pages.

You knew the warning signs.

Your chest felt like a semi truck was driving across it. You felt clammy, weak. Your heart was pounding around your ears and though you hate to make a scene (an ambulance is a great attention-getter), you called 911.

Fortunately, that chest pain was nothing, just “one of those things.” But it scared you plenty because, like most of us, you don’t want to die.

Yet, even if you did, if you were in the right place at the right time with the right doctors and the right medicine, there’s a tantalizing possibility that you could touch the edge of death and live. In the new book “Cheating Death” by Dr. Sanjay Gupta, you’ll read about astonishing medical advances that can literally raise the dead.

“I’m going to let you in on a little secret: When the heart stops beating, it’s not the end,” Gupta writes in his prologue. As it turns out, “dead” may not really mean lights out forever because, “life and death is not a black-and-white issue.”

When someone collapses from a heart attack, for instance, the heart continues quivering with electricity for a short time. Precious minutes, captured with luck, can be used to “reset” its rhythm, which often results in a patient who eventually walks out of the hospital to tackle another day.

And in those minutes? Throw out what you know about old-school CPR.

Cold-climate residents know the dangers of below-zero temperatures and icy-cold waters, but Gupta presents several cases where people were found with astoundingly low core body temps – people who were basically frozen stiff – and lived. As it turns out, cooling the body to temperatures below 98.6 degrees is one of the ways to cheat death in certain circumstances.

Overall, there appears to be plenty to learn about that twilight zone between here and gone. Patients can be kept “technically alive” nearly indefinitely, but it’s a life no one wants.

Or do they? What if there’s chance of recovery? It’s possible, Gupta admits, and as proof, he tells of coma patients who woke up (despite doctors’ firm belief that it wouldn’t happen), a glioblastoma patient given extra years of life through experimental treatment, a young cancer patient with spontaneous remission and the possibility that prayer works and medical miracles truly do exist.

Starting with a tragedy on a treadmill, author and CNN chief medical correspondent Gupta takes his readers on a path that leads from gym and frozen stream to emergency rooms and operating rooms to show how medical strides have given the Grim Reaper a good, hard time.

“Cheating Death” is a medical book, remember, but Gupta doesn’t write beyond his reader’s comprehension, nor does he “dumb down” his subject. Instead, he gives us a sense that he’s as astounded at the case studies as we are. His excitement is contagious and I enjoyed sharing it.

If you want to read a thrilling, almost science-fiction-type look at maverick medical frontiers, grab this one. “Cheating Death” is a definite heart-stopper.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Terri has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. She lives in West Salem, Wis., with her two dogs and 9,500 books.

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