When Breath Becomes Air

When Breath Becomes Air

Book - 2016
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"At the age of 36, on the verge of a completing a decade's worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi's health began to falter. He started losing weight and was wracked by waves of excruciating back pain. A CT scan confirmed what Paul, deep down, had suspected: he had stage four lung cancer, widely disseminated. One day, he was a doctor making a living treating the dying, and the next, he was a patient struggling to live. Just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined, the culmination of decades of striving, evaporated. With incredible literary quality, philosophical acuity, and medical authority, When Breath Becomes Air approaches the questions raised by facing mortality from the dual perspective of the neurosurgeon who spent a decade meeting patients in the twilight between life and death, and the terminally ill patient who suddenly found himself living in that liminality. At the base of Paul's inquiry are essential questions, such as: What makes life worth living in the face of death? What happens when the future, instead of being a ladder toward the goals of life, flattens out into a perpetual present? When faced with a terminal diagnosis, what does it mean to have a child, to nuture a new life as another one fades away? As Paul wrote, "Before my cancer was diagnosed, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn't know when. 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." Paul Kalanithi passed away in March 2015, while working on this book"--
Publisher: New York :, Random House,, [2016]
Edition: First edition.
Copyright Date: ©2016.
ISBN: 9780812988406
Branch Call Number: 616.99424 K141K
Characteristics: 228 pages ; 19 cm
Additional Contributors: Verghese, A. (Abraham), 1955-


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Jul 10, 2018

This autobiography goes beyond the usual chronological sequences in the life of a medical student/resident. Despite the moral pressures that the author faces while undergoing various treatments and the dilemmas that he faces, Kalanithi reminds his audience that making the most out of the small moments can be crucial to one's happiness.

Jul 08, 2018

What a brave man. This book is inspiring, thought provoking and so beautiful. A must for all of us.

Jul 04, 2018

So glad I picked up this book. It was truly enlightening for me. My husband has advanced prostate cancer and is undergoing treatment. However. my husband and I are senior citizens. To get to know this younger man and his family, and their devotion to one another during the his struggle with lung cancer. was inspiring. Very well written. A good read for anyone.

Jun 15, 2018

Extraordinary, insightful, poignant. A personal journey taken with deeply felt observations seen through a glittering glowing awareness of each moment.

Apr 03, 2018

Would read again. 5 of 5 stars.
Good author. Recommend. Will be one of the books I buy in the future.

Mar 30, 2018

One of the best books I've read in a long time. Paul Kalanithi aspired to be a writer before he became a surgeon and the words just flow. Yes, it's a sad story, sad that we lost someone this gifted at any early age, but he gives us the gift by sharing his life, his desire to find meaning in life, his illness, and his death.

Do look up Bill Gates review of this book. It's far more eloquent that what I've shared. Also, look up Lucy Kalanithi and her life after Paul. Sometimes new opportunities come in strange ways...

Mar 20, 2018

After losing my 45 year old mother to an obscenely aggressive Lung Cancer at the age of 15, I could still relate to this breath-taking account of life on death's terms.
To this little human and loving wife that Paul left behind, I pray that the insight he bestowed affords comfort in your times of sorrow and enriches whatever wake he has left behind.
What a brilliant mind!

Feb 07, 2018

A good read. Paul generously and openly shared his experiences, sufferings and thoughts when test confirmed he had cancer. I'd have send a friend of mine this book but unfortunately he just passed away prior to my reading this book. The stages and experiences he had undergone were similar to Paul's and I'm sure having a reference during those difficult moments would be useful.

Jan 30, 2018

Did the author jeopardize his health by the grueling regimen to train to be a neurosurgeon? The technical and medical terms in this memoir (such as a 'dehiscent' wound, pressors) interfere with the narrative when simple, descriptive language would have been more meaningful to the reader.

Dec 14, 2017

I've breezed through this book in 2 days, crying...it's a must-read and relatable on a deep, human level. Both doctor Paul's life and death are inspiring, it's a shame he's no longer with us, but what a great legacy he's left behind. May he rest in peace. Read this book!

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Jul 10, 2018

"You can't ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving."

Jan 30, 2018

"... As a resident [neurosurgeon], my highest ideal was not saving lives - everyone dies eventually - but guiding a patient or family to an understanding of death or illness. ... The families [of the patient] see the past, the ... memories, the freshly felt love, all represented by the body before them. I see the possible futures, the breathing machines connected [to] the neck, the pasty liquid dripping [into] the belly, the possible long, painful, and only partial recovery - or, sometimes more likely, no return at all of the person they remember. In these moments, I acted not, as I most often did, as death's enemy, but as its ambassador. I had to help those families understand that the person they know ... now lived only in the past and that I needed their input to understand what sort of future he or she would want: an easy death or to be strung between bags of fluids ... to persist despite being unable to struggle." (p. 87-88)

ArapahoeMaryA Jan 26, 2017

...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.

Jan 18, 2017

You can't ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving.

Aug 18, 2016

I was less driven by achievement than by trying to understand, in earnest: what makes human life meaningful? I still felt literature provided the best account of the life of the mind, while neuroscience laid down the most elegant rules of the brain.

Aug 05, 2016

Chemotherapy began on Monday. Lucy, my mother and I went to the infusion center together. I had an IV placed, settled into an easy chair and waited.

May 03, 2016

There we were, doctor and patient, in a relationship that sometimes carries a magisterial air and other times, like now, was no more, and no less, than two people huddled together, as one faces the abyss.

Doctors, it turns out, need hope, too.


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Aug 18, 2016

After ten years of medical education, Paul Kalanithi was on the verge of completing his training as a neurosurgeon when he became concerned about his own health. At first he blamed the rigours of residency, but a CT scan soon revealed the worst: cancer in the lungs, spine, and liver. Early in his university career, Kalanithi studied literature, dreaming of a career as a writer, but was driven to medicine by questions about mortality and meaning that he felt could not be answered by literature alone. Suddenly, those questions became urgent and personal, and the only time left to write a book and achieve that dream was now.

Aug 05, 2016

This book is one of the best 75 books in the past 75 years and it was just published this year. It will be truly a classic when you consider it’s about a neurosurgeon who discovers he has lung cancer. As the summary on the back of the box says – “One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live.” Only 36 years old Kalanithi had many questions he wanted answers to – “What make life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future, no longer a ladder toward your goals in life, flattens out into a perpetual present? What does it mean to have a child, to nurture a new life as another fades away?” Together with his large, loving family Kalanithi discovers the meaning of life. He was a brilliant writer and surgeon and was transformed as he explored literature in pursuit of what is important in life. I admire that he found what he was looking for and reported in a sensitive, matter-of-fact way without sentimentality.


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Aug 05, 2016

JanPruatt thinks this title is suitable for 12 years and over


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