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A world-renowned critical care doctor offers hope for ICU patients and their families in this timely, urgent, and compassionate narrative.
Over the next ten years, 40 to 60 million people in this country will be admitted to the ICU. Most of these hospitalizations will be sudden, unexpected, and harrowing, experiences that can alter patients and their families physically and emotionally, with effects that endure for years.
Every Deep-Drawn Breath is a rich blend of science, medical history, profoundly humane patient stories, and personal reflection. Dr. Wes Ely’s mission is to prevent patients from being inadvertently harmed by the technology that is keeping them alive. Readers will experience the world of critical care through the eyes of this physician who drastically changed his clinical practice, and through cutting-edge research convinced others to do the same.
For decades, millions of ICU survivors left the hospital with disabling symptoms including newly acquired dementia, depression, PTSD, and nerve damage, all now recognized as Post Intensive Care Syndrome, or PICS (a severe subset of Long Covid symptoms). Dr. Ely’s groundbreaking investigations advanced the understanding of PICS and introduced crucial changes that reshaped intensive care: minimizing sedation, maximizing mobility, attending to the family, and providing supportive aftercare. Dr. Ely shows that this new way—technology plus touch—is the future of healthcare, and is a proven path toward reclaiming life. Full of wisdom and heart, Every Deep-Drawn Breath is an essential resource for anyone who will be affected by critical illness, which is all of us.
About the Author
E. Wesley Ely, MD, MPH, is an internist, pulmonologist, and critical care physician. Dr. Ely earned his MD at Tulane University School of Medicine, in conjunction with a Masters in Public Health. He serves as the Grant W. Liddle endowed chair in medicine and is a physician-scientist and tenured professor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. He is also the associate director of aging research for the Tennessee Valley Veteran’s Affairs Geriatric Research Education Clinical Center (GRECC). He is the founder and codirector of the Critical Illness, Brain Dysfunction, and Survivorship (CIBS) Center, an organization devoted to research and ongoing care for people affected by critical illness. Dr. Ely has had numerous studies published in The New England Journal, JAMA, and The Lancet, and his writing has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, USA TODAY, and numerous other publications. He lives in Nashville.
"With its vivid observations and heartfelt tone, Every Deep-Drawn Breath is a joy to read. Ely’s passion for his patients leaps from the pages, inspiring readers to channel Ely’s humility and love for life to brighten the future of medicine, and mankind." —The Federalist
"An intensely emotive journey through the science and history of the intensive care unit. . . . Every Deep-Drawn Breath is a paragon of humanity that will have lasting positive effects." —The Lancet
"[A] powerful new book. . . . provides true insight into what can be accomplished with humility, perseverance, dedication and above all else, love.” —Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine
"A remarkable look at transformations in ICU care. . . . This humble—and humbling—look at the limits and potential of medicine will stick with readers.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review
“In this dynamic, often touching debut, the author chronicles a personal, passionate return to the ethical heart of the Hippocratic oath. . . . Meaningful, thought-provoking insight into the world of critical care.” —Kirkus Reviews
"Timely." —St. Louis Post-Dispatch
"A stunning, heartbreaking, and hopeful book, expressing Dr. Ely's profound union of compassion and medical skill. Given that most of us will stay in an ICU, attend a loved one there, or even die in one, I hope that many readers demand treatment according to the humane practices Dr. Ely has pioneered. I equally hope that every critical care doctor and hospital administrator reads this beautiful book, puts its protocols into practice, and makes their ICUs more humane and medically effective." —Katy Butler, author of Knocking on Heaven's Door
“Every Deep-Drawn Breath is an enthralling journey through the ongoing evolution of critical care. In this richly illustrated book, with stories of people who teetered on the edge of death and survived to find their lives forever changed, Dr. Ely, a thought leader in his field, reveals hard lessons he’s learned, innovations he’s led, and his compelling, bright vision for the future of medicine.” —Ira Byock, MD, active emeritus professor, Dartmouth Geisel School of Medicine, author of Dying Well and The Best Care Possible, founder and chief medical officer of the Institute for Human Caring
“Through rich and remarkable accounts of caring for patients in the ICU, Dr. Wes Ely places the humanistic mission of medicine front and center, where it belongs, in this outstanding book.” —Eric Topol, MD, Professor, Scripps Research, author of Deep Medicine
“A remarkable book from a legendary physician. Dr. Ely revolutionized critical care and now, through stories that are intimate, honest, and brave, he reveals the failings and the great promise of the field. This could not be more timely—in the wake of a pandemic that challenged the humanity of our profession, Ely shows us the road forward. A must read.” —Daniela Lamas, MD, author of You Can Stop Humming Now: A Doctor's Stories of Life, Death, and in Between
"Every Deep-Drawn Breath is a beautiful, honest gem. If you’re interested in the wild world of the ICU, in the interface between nature and human nature, in how medicine (at its best) learns from good intentions gone awry, in the difference between in vitro and in vivo, or in how a good doctor becomes great, here is the book for you. I'm grateful to Dr. Ely for his candor and his storytelling." —BJ Miller, MD, author of A Beginner's Guide to the End
"Thanks to Dr. Wes Ely and his colleagues, help is on the way for ICU patients, as well as the healthcare professionals who care for them. Every Deep-Drawn Breath is a must read for anyone who may someday be impacted by an ICU, which means all of us." —Jessica Zitter, MD, MPH, author of Extreme Measures: Finding a Better Path to the End of Life
“The ICU is an important, mysterious character in the story of modern medicine, and Every Deep-Drawn Breath is its deeply felt, thoroughly researched biography. With compassion, grit and grace, Dr. Ely takes us into this liminal space and shows us, through the stories of his patients and his life, what it means to mobilize technology to save lives while also confronting the unintended pain and suffering that ICU care can inflict. This book illuminates the humanism, heroism, and humility required to stand with people at life’s edge, and reminds us to seek meaning and purpose in the life we have, a life sustained by each breath we take.” —Sunita Puri, MD, author of That Good Night: Life and Medicine in the Eleventh Hour
“In this fascinating and eye-opening book, Wes Ely makes the radical argument that we should be helping critically ill patients stay awake and engaged, not routinely sedating them into unconsciousness. Combining dogged research, intense reflection, and page-turning stories, Dr. Ely reminds us that we have to treat the patient, not just the disease.” —Danielle Ofri, MD, PhD, Clinical Professor of Medicine, NYU School of Medicine, and author of When We Do Harm: A Doctor Confronts Medical Error
“With the storytelling sensibilities of Oliver Sacks and the surgical precision of Atul Gawande, Dr. Wes Ely has given us an unforgettable journey of patients and doctors traveling in the disorienting world of intensive care, ultimately leading toward redemption for Dr. Ely himself. Required reading for all mortals. If you liked When Breath Becomes Air, you will love this book.” —Angelo Volandes, MD, author of The Conversation: A Revolutionary Plan for End-Of-Life Care
“A treasure trove of hard-won wisdom. Reading Every Deep-Drawn Breath is like getting a backstage pass to the cloistered world of medical science. A gifted storyteller, Wes Ely brings his humanity to every moment, inspiring us to reexamine our own beliefs and reimagine what is possible. He has seamlessly woven together the private stories behind the very public successes and failures of our well-intentioned ICU care. Illuminating and generous, he revisits with humility the pivotal moments of his career in this wise gift of a book.” —Rana Awdish, MD, author of In Shock: My Journey from Death to Recovery and the Redemptive Power of Hope