Just read this - here is my review for our villages magazine:
When Breath becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
Why would anyone read a book about a highly intelligent and thoughtful young American neurosurgeon suffering from inoperable lung cancer, knowing it will be sad and that there will be a tragic ending? What kind of voyeuristic masochism is this? It was only the excellent reviews and, I confess, the fact that this book was a Kindle Daily Deal at 99p, that persuaded me to dip in – I am glad that I did.
The system of medical education in the US demands that students be post-graduates. This and the long training towards Kalanithi's chosen career meant that the bulk of his life was spent as a student. He had an MA in English Literature, another MA in the History and Philosophy of Science and Medicine, a BSc in Human Biology and finally an MD from Yale. His observation that “Neurosurgical training is all about delayed gratification” is ironic in the context of his short life. Kalinithi brought to bear his literature studies, particularly Walt Whitman's poetry, on his approach to his patients, and his aim to treat them as rounded human beings and not simply a body to be analysed and hopefully cured.
This background in literature and philosophy drove him to concentrate on the brain and “neurosurgery's unforgiving call to perfection….….it seemed to present the most challenging and direct confrontation with meaning, identity and death.......there must be a way, I thought, that the language of life as experienced – of passion, hunger, of love – bore some relationship, however convoluted, to the language of neurons, digestive tracks, and heartbeats..........where [does] biology, morality, literature, and philosophy intersect? …....what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay?"
As his cancer treatments came and went, promised life then failed painfully, he movingly describes the negotiation between hope and the acceptance of death. He was “so authoritative in a surgeon’s coat but so meek in a patient’s gown”
His wife finished the book after his death in early 2015 at the age of 37. His last words in the book are a message to his daughter, then 8 months old:
“When you come to one of the many moments in life when you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man's days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.”
Luckygirl Sun 28-Feb-16 17:20:43
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