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Hope for a Cool Pillow

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Margaret discusses Hope for a Cool Pillow on Good Day Austin.

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"Death is, for most of us, an uncomfortable topic. In Hope for a Cool Pillow, Overton has shared an intimate insider’s view of different sides of the healthcare equation. As such, it is a thought-provoking read." -Kelli Christiansen, Chicago Book Review

Physician Margaret Overton experiences two sides of the same coin in Hope for a Cool Pillow, her new memoir, which tackles disparate views of healthcare.

Overton, a Chicagoan whose first memoir, Good in a Crisis, was one of Chicago Book Review’s Best Books of 2014, examines the deaths of her parents, which she experiences both as a daughter and as a physician, one eye on the experience as a loved one, one eye on the experience as a medical professional. This dual view is at the heart of Hope for a Cool Pillow, which looks at the emotional, medical, financial, physical, legal, and logistical aspects of the end-of-life journey.

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"wry, out-of-the-ordinary new memoir...I loved every bit of this short, powerful book." -Rebecca Foster

If pressed to say which books Margaret Overton’s wry, out-of-the-ordinary new memoir most reminded me of, I’d describe it as a cross between Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal and Roz Chast’s Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant? The Chicago-area anesthesiologist is the author of a previous memoir, Good in a Crisis (2012), about the aftermath of a divorce and a brain aneurysm. Her latest book, which released on March 1st, started off as a manifesto on the need for an overhaul of American end-of-life care, with a strong drive towards creating an advanced directive and otherwise being meticulously prepared for one’s own death.

From there, I gather, the book took on a life of its own. It’s delightfully digressive, incorporating cases Overton observed in the hospital where she worked and lessons gleaned from a Harvard Business School course on healthcare delivery but also her personal experience of guiding her parents through their last days – her father died of lung cancer in 1998 and her mother, who suffered from dementia, finally followed in 2010.

Years surrounded by infirmity and the possibility of death have convinced her of the benefits of hospice and physician-assisted suicide, still only legal in a few states. We need to know (as we already do for our pets) when suffering is too much and stop extending life at any cost, Overton insists – rather than allowing hospitals to profit from death, as currently happens, with many elderly patients undergoing expensive and ultimately ineffectual procedures in their final weeks. “The last six months of life accounted for roughly twenty-five percent of our Medicare spending.”

For as universal as suffering and death are, we sure are wont to refuse them space in our lives. Again and again Overton uses the striking metaphor of “lemon juice,” drawn from a news story about a hapless would-be bank robber who thought spraying himself with lemon juice would make him invisible to onlookers and police. In our daily lives, she opines, we keep wearing that lemon juice, denying that there is a problem with our healthcare system and our thinking about death.

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"VERDICT: This book should be required reading..." —Chad Clark, San Jacinto Coll., North Houston, TX From Library Journal, March 15, 2016 Science and Technology, p. 127

“Within the arena of questionable and expensive medical procedures, Overton (Good in a Crisis) weighs in with a fresh perspective on end-of-life patient care. Drawing from her background as an anesthesiologist and as a caregiver for her aging parents, the author strongly advocates the necessity of palliative treatment and interrogates the practice of prolonging life among the terminally ill. She contends that in addition to valuable resources being taken from patients who might have a high chance of recovery, the quality of life is affected adversely. Generally, the culprits are a lack of communication and preparation. When physicians are reluctant to explain fully their patient’s options, and patients don’t take responsibility for their own health, the end-of-life experience will be especially challenging. A wealth of credible information in Overton’s writing is evidenced by the well-documented bibliography.

VERDICT: This book should be required reading for general readers who have not yet considered terminal illness, either for themselves or for their loved ones.”

“[Has] abundant humor that makes a tough subject accessible” — The Chicago Tribune

   "With longer life expectancies has come heightened concern among children of aging parents about quality of life, or, to be more precise, quality of death. It is, for some, a terrifying conversation that many families put off for another day. Not Margaret Overton's family. Overton, an Elmhurst native, recalls that her family had the conversation "all the time." Her father was obsessive about it.

    "He would send my sisters and I mimeographed letters with updates on his end-of-life plan," she says. "I thought this was normal."

    After Overton became a physician, she realized her family was an exception. She began to see families at the hospital where she worked who had not had not discussed end-of-life care, so the patients' wishes were unknown.

    To encourage more conversations along these lines, Overton has written, "Hope for a Cool Pillow," a memoir chronicling her experience...(read more)"

“Dying isn’t funny, but Overton finds humor in it..." — Nicole Villapando, My Statesman

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Reviews for

Good in a Crisis

“. . .A truly moving memoir from a real person who has lived a real life. Overton writes [a] funny, touching memoir Good in a Crisis, published in paperback earlier this year, [which] feels honest and authentic. Overton's experiences are at once unique and universal, and this is exactly what makes Good in a Crisis work so well. It is perfectly balanced—introspective without being self–indulgent, inspiring without being condescending. Overton's book should be required reading for anyone stumbling through middle life, if not to better understand themselves, then to acquire perspective on the real–world struggles of those around them."
The Chicago Book Review

“I finished this book wishing I could ring Margaret Overton and beg her to be my friend. She'd be ideal – funny, knocked about by life and (crucial, this) never pretending to be perfect. She even lives in Chicago, a city I love. Surely it's meant to be? . . . It'll make you laugh. Honest.”
The Irish Times

“[A] grimly hilarious journey. . . brutally funny reading about midlife coming-of-age.”
Kirkus Reviews

“. . .an unexpectedly funny handbook for anyone faced with starting again in middle age.”
The Daily Mail (UK)

EDITORS' PICK — The Guardian (UK)

GREAT MEMOIR ALERT: Who knew that a bitter divorce, midlife dating and an aneurysm could be this entertaining? — Ladies Home Journal

“Tragedy isn't usually funny. . . yet, somehow, this book is.” — Chicago Tribune

“What a story. Margaret Overton's Good in a Crisis is one harrowing episode after another. But as this grief-stricken anesthesiologist recounts her pain — of divorce, of illness, of bad dates and worse — she keeps tapping us right in the funny bone. The effect is quite moving and startling.”

— James McManus, author of Positively Fifth Street

“‘Men might find you attractive, but only until they find out how smart you are.’ This unhusbandly remark will resonate with a great many women who've felt it even if they haven't heard it is so many words. It's typical of the fierce candor Margaret Overton summons — along with an intact sense of humor and a doctor's eye for detail — to tell the story of how she survived a perfect storm of disasters and ended up stronger, wiser, and ready for a kinder future.”
— Rosellen Brown

“Good in a Crisis is a riotous romp through the messy, confusing, wonderful labyrinth of life. If you don't laugh, cry, sing, and shout while reading this book, call the coroner because you’re already dead. Oh, and I'm nominating Overton for Sainthood. She earned it.”
— Larry Dossey, MD, author of The Power of Premonitions and executive editor of Explore: The Journal of Science of Healing

“Margaret Overton is a truly funny, nervy, and insightful writer. Despite her personal losses, she and her wonderful memoir are both winners. I love Good in a Crisis!”
— Hilma Wolitzer, author of An Available Man

“Physician Margaret Overton's memoir is an unflinching dive into the depths of midlife. Attracting people and situations that consistently push her to the edge, Ms. Overton meets them all with a resilient spirit and a rapier-like wit. Raucous, poignant, heartfelt, “Good in a Crisis” pulls back the veil on the complex lives of our healers. A riveting read more than worthy of your attention.”
— Pat Toomay, author of On Any Given Sunday

“In this smart and clear-eyed narrative of one woman's midlife divorce… Overton writes frankly…with humor and some high-handed poise.”
Publishers Weekly, November 1, 2011