Good Bedtime Reads: December 2022

Every Deep Drawn Breath by Wes Ely, MD

Every once in a way you come across a book that has so much heart that it takes you by surprise. Dr. Wesley Ely’s book Every Deep Drawn Breath is one such book. As we struggle to come to terms with the aftermath of COVID both for our patients and for us as medical professionals, the book serves as a testament to the power of medicine to unearth truths regarding health and disease. 

What if the very medications and technology that were helping to keep patients alive in the ICU also rob them of the essence of who they were? The author, Dr Wesley Ely, is an internist, pulmonologist, and critical care physician at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. He describes his journey as an intensivist who started off with the very best of intentions and whose observations of the effect of ICU stay on his patients made him question the protocols of modern medicine. The very real struggles of patients after they are discharged from the intensive care unit are painstakingly described and the reader can identify with the existential crisis that patients face when they can no longer live a meaningful life due to the effects of prolonged intubation and ventilation on the brain and other organs. Relating human stories, Dr. Ely outlines the Post Intensive Care Syndrome (PICS) that affects ICU patients, often the result of the treatment they receive to keep them intubated and sedated. The reader is brought along as a spectator through Dr. Ely’s professional and personal journey as he struggles to understand and provide comfort to his patients grappling with an unknown disease. Many face skepticism regarding their symptoms and stories. The book underscores the importance of believing the patient when we cannot understand what they are going through. 

As a medical professional it was eye-opening to learn about the human side to the reports that we read in medical literature such as the A2F bundle and the creation of the Critical Illness, Brain Dysfunction and Survivorship (CIBS) center at Vanderbilt. This book is not only inspirational for anyone in the healthcare field, it provides hope and clarity for anyone who has been in an ICU or had a loved one go through that experience.  

Viji Kurup MD
Professor, Vice Chair for Medical Education
Yale University School of Medicine
New Haven, CT

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