Shocked: A Doctor Investigates the Blurred Lines Between Life and Death

Shocked: A Doctor Investigates the Blurred Lines Between Life and Death

by David Casarett M.D.


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As a young medical student, Dr. David Casarett was inspired by the story of a two-year-old girl named Michelle Funk. Michelle fell into a creek and was underwater for over an hour. When she was found she wasn’t breathing, and her pupils were fixed and dilated. But after three hours of persistent work, a team of doctors and nurses was able to bring her back.

If Michelle could come back after three hours of being dead, what about twelve hours? Or twenty-four? What would it take to revive someone who had been frozen for one thousand years? And what does blurring the line between "life" and "death" mean for society?

In Shocked, Casarett chronicles his exploration of the cutting edge of resuscitation and reveals just how far science has come. He takes us to a conference of "cryonauts" who want to be frozen after they die, a dark room full of hibernating lemurs in North Carolina, and a laboratory that puts mice into a state of suspended animation. The result is a spectacular tour of the bizarre world of doctors, engineers, animal biologists, and cryogenics enthusiasts trying to bring the recently dead back to life.

Fascinating, thought-provoking, and funny, Shocked is perfect for those looking for a prequel—and a sequel—to Mary Roach’s Stiff, or for anyone who likes to ponder the ultimate questions of life and death.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"An exciting firsthand account of scientific research whose implications are relevant to every living person." —The Futurist

"Entertaining, informative, and, at times, electrifying." —Booklist

"[Casarett] traces the colorful history of efforts to revive the dead, with meticulous reporting and humor." —The Washington Post

"Dr. Casarett has produced a travelogue about as comprehensive as possible without actually dying. . . . His guide to the process of hauling passengers back up the exit ramp is fascinating." —The New York Times

For most of us, death is irrevocable, except in zombie movies. According to physician David Casarett, however, demise is no long what it used to be. In this fascinating, surprisingly entertaining new book, he explores the new medical science of resurrection. Displaying an often light-hearted tone, he describes how new advances have turned this once fanciful project into a reality. A perfect fit for fans of authors like Mary Roach and Malcolm Gladwell. Editor's recommendation.

Publishers Weekly

In this laid-back book about electroshocking people back to life, hospice doctor Casarett addresses the “financial ethical, and emotional” costs of life-saving resuscitation while asking, “What happens when we test the boundaries of life?” He wanders amiably through research on death, resuscitation technologies, hibernation, suspended animation, and hypothermia, lingering longer on the personalities—and stories—behind studies than on the studies themselves. Readers learn the relatively unsurprising news that cardiopulmonary resuscitation via electric shock is often effective, but no cure-all, sometimes leaving patients who have underlying disorders in bad shape. Similarly unsurprising is the news that humans have not yet learned how to hibernate for the winter, place ourselves in suspended animation for trips to space, or cryopreserve ourselves into another life. But Casarett does point out strides made in research and technology: scientists know how to freeze the body just right—via hypothermic circulatory arrest—so our brains can survive stopped-heart procedures, and are studying the chemical wizardry hibernating animals employ, in the not unrealistic expectation that humans will someday be able to follow suit. Casarett accessibly reveals the work being done that may enable us to sleep far more, and so travel far further—in both place and time—than we ever dreamed. (Aug.)

Library Journal

Despite the title, this book is more about cooling the human body than electrocuting it. The "science of resuscitation," as Casarett (Sch. of Medicine, Univ. of Pennsylvania) refers to his topic, has its origins in 18th-century Holland and England, where the recently drowned were subjected to a number of treatments, both effective (tied to the back of a horse and trotted up and down) and ineffective (gagged with a feather). Unfortunately, Casarett comes across as overly credulous. He describes everyone he encounters as looking just as one might expect someone of that profession to appear. Additionally, some of the theories he explores sound more sf come to life, particularly the long section on cryonics (freezing the body after death for later revival). More effective is the author's discussion of how advanced resuscitation techniques blur the line between life and death. Casarett describes briefly a personal experience with death that led him to his current career as a hospice doctor and to question when extraordinary efforts to save a life go too far. VERDICT This book may work for readers of Mary Roach's Stiff, in which the author's interest is more theoretical.—Cate Hirschbiel, Iwasaki Lib., Emerson Coll., Boston

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781617230226
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/13/2015
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 1,251,209
Product dimensions: 5.45(w) x 8.36(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

Read an Excerpt


The Big Mac Rule of Resuscitation and the Search for the Limits of Life

When I was a kid, long before I contemplated going to medical school, the television in our living room was the sole source of all of my medical knowledge. Before I ever dissected a cadaver or listened to a heart, shows like M*A*S*H; St. Elsewhere; Doogie Howser, MD; Chicago Hope; and ER taught me how to be a doctor. Specifically, they taught me that doctors are firm, decisive, quick-thinking, and almost always successful.

Television also taught me how to bring someone back to life. Fortunately, that was a simple lesson for an eight-year-old. The television version of resuscitation followed a script that was mercifully predictable, and that predictability was helpfully marked by several reliable guideposts along the way.

First, someone’s heart would stop. That cessation of a heartbeat was usually heralded by unmistakable signs, including but not limited to gasping, choking, eye rolling, and chest clutching.

Next, and typically without any discernible delay whatsoever, everyone within hailing distance would descend on the newly dead character. One of these self-appointed rescuers would then place two hands on the character’s chest and bounce up and down heroically. It was also at about this point that another rescuer—usually a tall, handsome doctor—performed a strange sort of kissy procedure with his mouth, guaranteed to provoke slack-jawed fascination in a boy not yet in middle school, especially if the victim was a woman. Finally, if the episode were really top-notch, someone would produce a pair of paddles, apply them to the victim’s chest, and yell, “Clear!” (At some point, I developed the unshakable conviction that this shouted incantation had some ill-defined yet essential electrical effect on the victim’s heart. I have a hazy recollection of standing over my freshly late hamster one sad morning and yelling, “Clear!” repeatedly in hopes of encouraging little Frankie to rejoin the living. Alas, Frankie was unfamiliar with the rules of televised resuscitations, and he remained persistently and unambiguously deceased.)

Then there would be a strategic yet wholly incongruous commercial break, after which we’d be back in the thick of things. On cue, the victim would tire of being kissed by a tall, handsome doctor and would wake up. Or, occasionally—and just for variety’s sake—the handsome doctor would tire of kissing a person who was becoming increasingly dead. Then he would stand up, say something solemn, and stride off purposefully toward the next crisis.

It was thanks to these scenes that I developed a deep and lasting impression of how resuscitation works when people try to die. For instance, I came to believe that resuscitation works. Maybe not always, but almost always. It seemed as though even if you were dead, as long as there was a good-looking doctor nearby, you wouldn’t be dead for long.

I also became convinced that if resuscitation is going to work, it’s going to work very, very fast. A perceptive watcher of these shows would conclude that the fate of a newly dead person is determined in the span of time that it takes to learn about the merits of cookies made by Keebler Elves or a sing-along of the McDonald’s Big Mac jingle. Let’s call this the Big Mac rule of resuscitation. By then, your victim is probably wide-awake and hugging the rescuers. If she isn’t, then you might as well switch channels.

So I persisted in my fantasies about resuscitation for quite some time.

But then a girl named Michelle died.


Excerpted from "Shocked"
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Copyright © 2015 David Casarett.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
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