Monday, March 18, 2019

3/18/19 @9:45am pst - Janeane spoke with palliative care physician Sunita Puri about her brilliantly written memoir from the front lines of an increasingly relevant field—and a moving meditation on life, death, and illness THAT GOOD NIGHT Life & Medicine in the Eleventh Hour

LISTEN to today's conversation
with featured guest Sunita Puri!
“That Good Night is a timely and important work: an insider’s view of caring for the sickest patients and a moving exploration of life’s impermanence. Sunita Puri’s deft attention to language, both in her writing and in her work as a doctor, is a testament to the power of story, narrative, and context to help us make sense of life and its end.”
—Lucy Kalanithi, MD, widow of Paul Kalanithi, author of the #1 New York Times bestselling book When Breath Becomes Air

“A profound meditation on a problem many of us will face; worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal.”
—Kirkus (starred review)

“Recognizing the complementary paths of science and spirituality, [Puri draws] upon the strength, support, and wisdom of her family’s beliefs and values—honoring life and accepting death—to help her patients make ‘eleventh-hour’ choices. . . . This is a powerful memoir, which Puri narrates with honesty, poise, and empathy.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

When Dr. Sunita Puri was a young medical student just learning the ropes, she did a rotation that changed everything for her. Palliative care—care that focuses on providing relief from the symptoms and stress of serious illness—was a relatively new specialty, but one that immediately drew her in. She found herself asking questions she’d never thought about before. 

  • What is a doctor’s obligation to a patient she cannot cure? 
  • What should be the balance between the technical and humanistic sides of medicine? 
  • Does a good doctor promise to do everything to save a patient’s life, or is she honest about medicine’s limits?

In THAT GOOD NIGHT: Life and Medicine in the Eleventh Hour (Viking; Hardcover; On Sale: March 5, 2019), Puri weaves together evocative stories of her career and upbringing with tales of the patients she cares for—all from the front lines of an increasingly important field that has the potential to transform Western medicine. The result is a stunningly lyrical and poignant meditation on the role of medicine in helping us to live, and to die, well.

The American-born daughter of Indian immigrants, Puri knew from a young age that the gulf between her parents’ experiences and her own was impossible to bridge, save for two elements: medicine and spirituality. Between days spent waiting for her mother, an anesthesiologist, to exit the OR, and evenings spent in conversation with her parents about their faith, Puri witnessed the tension between medicine’s impulse to preserve life at all costs and a spiritual embrace of life’s impermanence. But as she followed her mother’s footsteps into medicine, she found herself falling into the trap of depersonalization, spending more time in front of books and computers than with patients. As she writes, “By unintentionally treating patients like a panoply of diagnoses, biological mysteries to be solved, I was losing sight of what had drawn me to medicine in the first place: the unique opportunity to become both a scientist and a humanist, translating book knowledge into relief of human suffering.” But in palliative care—in facing death head-on and embracing what much of medicine sought to erase—she found the meaning she had been searching for.

There is no harder diagnosis to process than fatal illness, and it is physicians like Puri who have the courage to step in at that crucial moment—not only to provide medical knowledge, but also to extend emotional support, and to ask important questions about a patient’s goals and values. In a country with an aging population, this type of care becomes more relevant than ever, and THAT GOOD NIGHT is an essential contribution to our ongoing conversation about healthcare, critical illness, and end of life care. With deep curiosity, empathy, and a novelist’s eye for detail, Puri describes her own experiences in the field, including how she navigates difficult conversations with patients and their families, the differences between palliative care and hospice, and how our health care and medical education systems can be improved to better serve the needs of patients at the end of life.

THAT GOOD NIGHT is an eloquent and intimate memoir; a fascinating look at the interplay between spirituality and medicine; and a frank discussion of how the medical field—with its emphasis on prolonging life at all costs—often fails to be truly focused on what the patient wants. Despite the weighty subject matter, it is ultimately a story of profound hope and compassion, arming readers with powerful tools to transform how we communicate with our doctors about what matters most.


Sunita Puri is the Medical Director of the Palliative Medicine and Supportive Care Service at the Keck Hospital and Norris Cancer Center of the University of Southern California, where she also serves as Chair of the Ethics Committee. She graduated from Yale University with a B.A. in Anthropology and studied Modern History at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. She completed medical school and residency training in Internal Medicine at the University of California San Francisco, and fellowship training in Hospice and Palliative Medicine at Stanford University. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, the Journal of the American Medical Association, and JAMA - Internal Medicine. She has received writing fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, UCross Foundation, and Mesa Refuge. In 2018, she received the Etz Chaim Tree of Life Award from the USC Keck School of Medicine, awarded annually to a member of the faculty who, in the eyes of the campus community, models and provides humanistic and compassionate care.

THAT GOOD NIGHT: Life and Medicine in the Eleventh Hour

Sunita Puri

Viking | On Sale: March 5, 2019 |

Also available as an e-book

For more information, please visit: |

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