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Book: When Breath Becomes Air

I came across this book while reading Bill Gates blog where he shares the books he has read.

And then I ordered it and read it within 2 days. And I must say, this book left me in tears.

Paul Kalanithi, the writer of the book was a neurosurgeon who was diagnosed with terminal cancer.


I've always enjoyed stories from the medical field, about their training and about the massive work they have to do.

But apart from his medical training and the intricacies of neurosurgery, what catches the readers eye is how Paul tries to find the answer to the question about life - What makes this life worth living?
Don’t think I ever spent a minute of any day wondering why I did this work, or whether it was worth it. The call to protect life—and not merely life but another’s identity; it is perhaps not too much to say another’s soul—was obvious in its sacredness. Before operating on a patient’s brain, I realized, I must first understand his mind: his identity, his values, what makes his life worth living, and what devastation makes it reasonable to let that life end. The cost of my dedication to succeed was high, and the ineluctable failures brought me nearly unbearable guilt. Those burdens are what make medicine holy and wholly impossible: in taking up another’s cross, one must sometimes get crushed by the weight.
What's more is he brings to us the stories of him as a patient with indomitable strength, a loving husband, a book lover and a writer.

And then the reader is engulfed with emotions when Paul and his wife, Lucy, decide to have a child despite Kalanithi's diagnosis. It's impossible to read it without getting choked. Here's a conversation between Paul and Lucy.
“Will having a newborn distract from the time we have together?” she asked. “Don’t you think saying goodbye to your child will make your death more painful?”
“Wouldn’t it be great if it did?” I said. Lucy and I both felt that life wasn’t about avoiding suffering.”
The book is also a must read for all the budding doctors. Here's a small excerpt in the form of advice:
“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.”
I would like to end this post with Paul's thought on life and death:
“Everyone succumbs to finitude. I suspect I am not the only one who reaches this pluperfect state. Most ambitions are either achieved or abandoned; either way, they belong to the past. The future, instead of the ladder toward the goals of life, flattens out into a perpetual present. Money, status, all the vanities the preacher of Ecclesiastes described, hold so little interest: a chasing after wind, indeed.”
I would like to read this book again sometime.

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