When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

When life gets you down try looking at what others are going through. You may realize that your troubles are minuscule compared to theirs. Reading the memoir When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi made me sad, but also gave food for thought on life and how precious each day is. 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 is a doctor, the next a patient struggling to live.

What makes life worth living in the face of death? This is only one of the many questions answered throughout the book. Given that the book is written by a neurosurgeon, one would think it is filled with tons of medical jargon. Not so. When Breath Becomes Air is written in a way that feels conversational and genuine, even when discussing procedures of the brain and medical school examples. There is a reason for that. Paul Kalanithi began his education graduating from Stanford University with a BA and MA in English literature, followed by a BA in human biology. Eventually, neurosurgery became the author's career after he graduated cum laude from the Yale School of Medicine. And then the unthinkable happened. One day he is nearly at the top of his medical field, and the next fighting for his life with stage IV lung cancer. With the support of his colleagues, the author managed his symptoms so he could operate for as long as he could, but when the time came he knew he wanted to devote his last year to writing this memoir. In addition, he would get a brief, sweet taste of fatherhood when he and his wife, Lucy, also in the medical field, decided to have a child, daughter Elizabeth Acadia. I think I was most impressed by how the author saw the positive outcome of treating the whole patient rather than focusing on just the medical problem to be solved. We could only hope that more doctors would embrace this idealogy.

Paul Kalanithi died in March 2015, while working on this book. A sad story for sure, but one I think anyone facing their own personal struggles should read. Another great choice for book clubs as well.

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