When Breath Becomes Air

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when-breath-becomes-air-paul-kalanithi

What does it feel like to be a doctor and a patient at the same time? This is the experience of a neurosurgeon as he came face to face with his mortality after he was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer that eventually metastasized to his brain. Paul Kalanithi writes in such tragically beautiful and captivating prose about his search for meaning in life and death. This search eventually led him to medicine, and specifically to neurosurgery where he thought he could find the answers to deep existential questions by working on the organ where our identity lies. But it wasn’t until he himself became the patient of a terminal illness that he started to grasp the weight of his questions. We all know we will eventually die. But there’s knowing you will die, and there’s KNOWING you WILL die. As heartbreaking as it was to read about how the dreams and aspirations of a successful chief neurosurgical resident who was being sought after and enticed by hospitals to come to them with millions of dollars and state of the art faculties, were all effaced by his diagnosis, it was equally illuminating. Paul was working against time to get this book out before he succumbed to his illness in March 2015. Even in not being able to finish it as he wished to, that in itself contributed to the message he was trying to deliver. I really can’t recommend this book highly enough.

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