Friday, December 29, 2017
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade's worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. And just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi's transformation from a naïve medical student "possessed," as he wrote, "by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life" into a neurosurgeon at Stanford working in the brain, the most critical place for human identity, and finally into a patient and new father confronting his own mortality.
What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future, no longer a ladder toward your goals in life, flattens out into a perpetual present? What does it mean to have a child, to nurture a new life as another fades away? These are some of the questions Kalanithi wrestles with in this profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir.
Kalanithi wrote this book while battling lung cancer and the ripe old age of late 30s....He was a renaissance man who got his degrees in literature and history of science before heading off to med school to become a neurosurgeon and neuroscientist. He shares his journey with us from what ultimately turned his attention from literature to becoming a doctor. He wanted to face death and experience it with his patients. But then he became the patient.
Kalanithi pulls from science, philosophy, and literature to bring together his thoughts and experiences on death and dying.
"...the physician's duty is not to stave off death or return patients to their old lives, but to take into our arms a patient and family whose lives have disintegrated and work until they can stand back up and face, and make sense of, their own existence."
It's a moving and poignant memoir. It makes me ponder my own existence and how to approach life and make it a good one so when I finally meet death I can say I'm ready.