One Life, Many Deaths

 One Life, Many Deaths 

A Surgeon’s Stories

H. Brownell Wheeler, MD

October 2014

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As the path of his life unfolds, from a farm in the hills of Eastern Kentucky to the pinnacles of academic medicine, a surgeon’s childhood panic about death is gradually transformed into a mature peace with mortality.  Not only his encounters with patients – from a gypsy patriarch to a homeless pauper – but also near-death experiences, premonitions, and other psychic phenomena, contributed to a growing sense of wonder, mystery, sometimes beauty, and above all serenity in the face of an inescapable human experience, death.  The latter chapters, written after the author developed Parkinson’s disease, describe how this physician, scientist, administrator, and increasingly spiritual seeker plans to live a full and happy life, and to have a “good death” when the time comes.


H. Brownell Wheeler, MD, was Chief of Surgery at hospitals affiliated with Harvard Medical School and the University of Massachusetts from 1961 to 1996.  After retiring from surgery, he worked to improve end-of-life care, efforts that resulted in formation of the Massachusetts Compassionate Care Coalition and the Better Ending Partnership of Central Massachusetts. He lives with his wife of more than 50 years, Betty, on the coast of Maine.