"I flipped through the CT scan images, the diagnosis obvious: the lungs were matted with innumerable tumors, the spine deformed, a full lobe of the liver obliterated. Cancer, widely disseminated....
from the Prologue of When Breath Becomes Air
Yesterday I finally got myself to the library and I finally was able to check out When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. The author died at the age of 37 in March 2015, the book was published the following year in January, a promise made to him by his wife and family, to see the manuscript through to publication.
I knew about this book, I'd read several articles. The book was included on several list of top books to read in 2016, top books to read in seeking knowledge and understanding on what it means to live, and certainly the book had been recommended by friends.
Yesterday, I started reading the book around 4pm and finished it at 9:30pm. I'm a fast reader, I'm not sure how or where I developed the speed. The Jacksonville Library check out policy is 21 days; I know I will read this book again before the end of the coming week.
When Breath Becomes Air should be read by any and all who are interested in the pursuit of living a meaningful life and I don't mean every minute, every second.
I mean a meaningful life knowing that in someway, some form, in some shape, with a single or a thousand gestures, we all have the capacity to identify, understand and grip our values and make our presence in ourselves, in our relationships, in our friendships, in the course of our everyday lives: have meaning and significance.
Paul Kalanithi's lesson about life and death and all that is in between was compressed. Certainly his and his wife's knowledge and training as medical professionals, allowed for a perspective that I'm sure was at times very difficult and at times, a blessing.
Paul Kalanithi had a thirst and capacity for knowledge that even in death is inspiring family, friends, colleagues, patients, family of patients he cared for and millions of readers like you and me. He was an English Literature and Human Biology major at Stanford, he completed an MA in English Literature before deciding that medicine would be his path towards a life long career, specifically neurological surgery.
I hope that this book is required reading across all medical programs in schools and universities all over the world. The book will challenge and inspire a broad audience; readers in the infancy of their medical careers should be not only inspired, they should consider, reflect and apply many of the lessons shared in this book about the role of a medical professional in the delicate balance of life and death when it comes to dealing with patients and their families.
If you have any interest in neurological surgery, the book offers a fascinating glimpse on what it takes, what is involved, the art, the science, the passion for perfection when doctor and patient are forever joined in the operating room, or surgical theatre as they are sometimes called.
The New York Times review of this book includes this observation, "Finishing this book and then forgetting about it is simply not an option." I agree 100%.
There is so much that can be considered, reflected, appreciated, shared about this book. If you have even the slightest interest in reading, I definitely recommend the 225 pages, every chapter, paragraph, sentence, every word. The epilogue by his wife, Lucy Kalanithi, is tender, beautiful, emotional, necessary.