I just recently finished When a Breath Becomes Air for the third time. Receiving the book from a patient in an oncology ward at the hospital I volunteered at, the book had a poignant effect on my day. The book is about an accomplished neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanathi, who shares and commiserates his personal experience battling a terminal disease, and coming to grips with the future. His account with lung cancer evokes the question: “What does it mean for us to die?”. I personally enjoyed his direct dealings with death.
“After the diagnosis, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn’t know when. But now I knew it acutely. The problem wasn’t really a scientific one. The fact of death is unsettling. Yet there is no other way to live.”
Perhaps you too, will take from his experience, the universal experience that we all must face at the end of our days and find solace in his words. His youth was infected by the pursuit of medicine, by a love for science, which in a way, bore little fruit. Death acts thusly, an arbiter with no words of caution, but rather a whirlwind of chaos in which we cannot plan for.
Writing attempts to put into words the sense of longing that we fervently wish for, to give this man a second chance. His words cut to the heart of the strange relationship that exists between doctor and patient. A life dedicated to science, to others, a calling to medicine compelled his actions and furthermore compelled his last words. This book is the culmination of his thoughts, his memoir written so that we may know the thoughts of a man who dedicated his life to a calling and his ink to guiding all who will die, through the process of preparing and facing our final endeavor.