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When Breath Becomes Air (2016)Description / Buy at Amazon

Paul Kalanithi was neurosurgeon and memoir author best known for writing “When Breathe Becomes Air.” He was trained at the Yale School of Medicine and did his residency at the neurosurgery program at Stanford. Kalanithi grew up in Kingman, Arizona and as a teenager, he went to Stanford University from where he would graduate with a bachelors in English Literature and a masters in Human Biology. He would later earn a Philosophy of Medicine and Science from the University of Cambridge and a master of Philosophy in History from Cambridge before he proceeded to medical school. Paul graduated from the Yale School of Medicine in 2007 and was invited to join the Omega Alpha medical society and won the Lewis H Nahum Prize for outstanding research. He decided to do his neurosurgery residence at Stanford as he wanted to do his post-doctoral fellowship at the same institution. During his time at Stanford, he is credited with authoring more than twenty articles that were published in scientific journals. He was also the recipient of the highest award awarded to resident researchers by the American Academy of Neurological Surgery.

Growing up in Kingman Arizona, Paul Kalanithi never felt the need to emulate his father who was a cardiologist. He did not like that his father left home at the crack of dawn and was back deep in the night when everyone had gone to sleep. Kalanithi was more interested in formulating a life philosophy that intersected literature, philosophy and biology. He would go on to study all three subjects at Cambridge and Stanford. His search to find understanding through philosophy finally led him to pursue a career in medicine. He believed that by caring for parents, he could best explore the meaning of human life even in the face of decay and death. But that did not mean that he was not repulsed by gross anatomy classes, where they had to repress thoughts that they were cutting into people with human emotions, and feelings. It was at that class that he would meet Lucy Goddard, a fellow doctor that would then become his wife.
In 2013 while he was doing the sixth year of his residency in neurosurgery, he got the devastating news that he had Stage IV lung cancer. Despite the physical and emotional implications of the diagnosis, he continued taking care of his patients and his dedication towards medicine never wavered as he went on to graduate in 2014. Most residents remembered him for being a person that helped other residents to identify their weaknesses and strengths and to be the best they could be. He also balanced his passion for medicine with his love for literature as he wrote several critically acclaimed essays. Some of these included The Washington Post published “Before I Go,” that had more than 4 million views and the New York Times published essay “How Long Have I Got Left.” “When Breathe Becomes Air,” his popular Memoir was published in 2016. It is a reflection of the patient-physician relationship and how people face mortality. Two years after he was diagnosed, he died aged only thirty seven. His memoir was finished by his wife Lucy Goddard who published it posthumously.

“When Breath Becomes Air” by Paul Kalanithi is the memoir of the author which starts on the day he got his Stage IV lung cancer diagnosis. He was training as a neurosurgeon and suddenly he went from a man that took care of ailing patients to a patient trying to live long enough to graduate. The future he had imagined with his wife was no longer achievable. He went from a naïve medical student obsessed with trying to find out why all organisms die to a neurosurgeon trying to make a meaningful and virtuous life. He started working on the most critical elements of human identity in the brain, became a patient and then a father that tries to understand looming mortality. He asks if it is worth living when death is inevitable and what one can do when they no longer have a future to look forward to. He no longer had the ladder to take towards the achievement of his dreams as he lived for the present. How does it feel to nurture children who represent new life as your own fades away? He soon realized that nothing and everything had changed and just like Samuel Beckett said he had to decide when he would go on or was unable of going on. His memoir is a life affirming and unforgettable reflection on the relationship between patient and doctor and the difficulty of dealing with inevitable death.

Book Series In Order » Authors » Paul Kalanithi

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