My brief forays into the formal ethics of analytic philosophy felt dry as a bone, missing the messiness and weight of real human life. I had come to see language as an almost supernatural force, existing between people, bringing our brains, shielded in centimeter-thick skulls, into communion. It was the relational aspect of humans — i. Yet somehow, this process existed in brains and bodies, subject to their own physiologic imperatives, prone to breaking and failing. There must be a way, I thought, that the language of life as experienced — of passion, of hunger, of love — bore some relationship, however convoluted, to the language of neurons, digestive tracts, and heartbeats.
As his friends pursued careers in the arts, Kalanithi remained animated by the seemingly quixotic quest to locate the intersection of literature, biology, philosophy, and morality, and to mine it for the raw material of meaning in human life. Eventually, several of his professors suggested that a degree in the history and philosophy of science might come closest to his inquiry, so he applied to the program in Cambridge and set off for the English countryside.
He recounts:. I found myself increasingly often arguing that direct experience of life-and-death questions was essential to generating substantial moral opinions about them. Words began to feel as weightless as the breath that carried them. Stepping back, I realized that I was merely confirming what I already knew: I wanted that direct experience. It was only in practicing medicine that I could pursue a serious biological philosophy. Moral speculation was puny compared to moral action. I finished my degree and headed back to the States.
I was going to Yale for medical school. It was on the wings of this incisive idealism that Kalanithi soared through his life as a neurosurgeon, and it was on them that he rose to his death. I had spent so much time studying literature at Stanford and the history of medicine at Cambridge, in an attempt to better understand the particularities of death, only to come away feeling like they were still unknowable to me… Such things could be known only face-to-face. I was pursuing medicine to bear witness to the twinned mysteries of death, its experiential and biological manifestations: at once deeply personal and utterly impersonal.
But facing these twinned mysteries as a participant rather than an observer upended his most basic beliefs. He reflects on his conflicted mental state midway through his treatment as the tumors shrink and the cancer is momentarily under control:.
No one asked about my plans, which was a relief, since I had none. While I could now walk without a cane, a paralytic uncertainty loomed: Who would I be, going forward, and for how long? Invalid, scientist, teacher? Neurosurgeon once again…? Stay-at-home dad? Who could, or should, I be? As a doctor, I had had some sense of what patients with life-changing illnesses faced — and it was exactly these moments I had wanted to explore with them. When Dr. He had led a fascinating life and was not about to leave it unchronicled.
The bittersweet news is that in the 22 months left to him, Dr. Kalanithi still lives, with enormous power to influence the lives of others even though he is gone. I guarantee that finishing this book and then forgetting about it is simply not an option.
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There is so much here that lingers, and not just about matters of life and death: One of the most poignant things about Dr. By the time he was ready to enjoy a life outside the operating room, what he needed to learn was how to die.
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He wrote his own book with great determination but also great difficulty, to the point of wearing silver-lined gloves to use the trackpad when his fingertips began to crack during chemotherapy. In the epilogue and afterword, by his wife, Lucy Kalanithi, also a doctor, she says that the manuscript had to be completed posthumously. Kalanithi knows how to make a paragraph fly. And the book opens with a beauty, quoted here to show its swift economy and precision:.
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
Cancer, widely disseminated. I was a neurosurgical resident entering my final year of training. But this scan was different: it was my own. Biography True Stories. Batteries Calculators Office Machines. Frame Tray Boxed Wooden Floor. Boxed 3D Jigsaw Accessories. Brain Teasers Educational. Action Animals Collectibles.
A. No, never.
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When Breath Becomes Air : Paul Kalanithi :
Not available in conjunction with any other offer. Offer ends 22nd September At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade's training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer.
One day he was a doctor treating the dying, the next he was a patient struggling to live. In Stock Shipping in Days. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, the ne