When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalinithi, author; Cassandra Campbell, Sunil Malhotra, narrators

Paul Kalinithi loved literature and planned a career in academia. When he visited a home for brain injured patients who were abandoned by their families, he was deeply affected and his direction in life changed dramatically.  He had never considered a career in medicine, although many family members were physicians, but now he reversed course and decided to pursue a future in neuroscience. This is the story of his brave fight to become a neurosurgeon and neuroscientist in spite of a terrible medical diagnosis that would change his life.
Even though Paul Kalinithi wanted to put a happy face on the way he faced and dealt with his disease, his terminal cancer, and the reader may greatly respect his effort and honor his life, it will be hard to justify his suffering. He had so much to live for and so much to give to the world of science and patient care, until life intervened in a way he would never have anticipated. Suddenly, he would not only have to decide how to live out the rest of his life, but how also, to face his coming death. We all are born with an expiration date, but most of us are unaware of when it will be. Paul now knew that his time was not only limited, but also very finite, and his activities and training would now be cut short, as well.
It seemed so terribly unfair that after years of study, after perfecting his techniques for neurosurgery, after his career in neuroscience began to show such promise, that he would be cut down too soon, before he would have the opportunity to hone his skills further and educate others about the way in which science, medicine and compassion could be combined to provide a more sensitive and realistic approach to patient care, an approach in which the doctor did not have to become maudlin or overly dramatic, overly hopeful or the opposite, overly terrifying, when approaching a terminal patient to explain the prognosis for the disease’s progression. He wanted patients to understand what they would face in their future, depending on their choice of treatment, by putting the most positive face on a negative outlook, but keeping the outlook real so that the family and friends of the patient were also aware of what awaited them as they went forward. He was now forced to live with that philosophy.
All life choice decisions are difficult to deal with and are very personal in nature. How we choose to live and how we choose to die is often left to chance. I have always felt that when illness strikes, you are still the same person, just that person with more information. However, when the diagnosis comes back as you hope it never will, is it then possible to maintain such a Pollyanna attitude? Paul Kalinithi proved that, he could practice what he preached. Although he struggled at times, it was possible to conduct his life as if it would continue, albeit, perhaps not that far into the future.
Is our quality of life important or our length of life? Do we want to be attached to machines or do we want to have palliative care so that we are comfortable, or do we want to be tethered to the bed by the tools of medical intervention. Paul Kalinithi wanted all patients to learn how to live, and how to die, but foremost, he wanted them to understand how they could live with even the worst diagnoses with some hope so they could face whatever bit of future remained, so they would simply not give up and lay down and die. He wanted them to understand what they would face so they could make a rational decision for whatever time remained.
He wanted desperately to finish this book since his first love had been literature, even before medicine and science. In the end, he did not, although I found it complete in its message. His wife Lucy, also a doctor, an internist, closes the book for him. She was aware of what his diagnosis meant and understood the difficult path they would face together. She reviews his purpose, his courage and his kindness. She illuminates his unique combination of bravery, intelligence and compassion. He was ever hopeful and instilled that hope in his friends and family. He hoped his child would someday think of him and understand what he was trying to do with his life and with this book.
I found some of the data in the book to be a bit too much information, a bit too upsetting, and I wondered how many people would actually manage to read it completely, even though it has received acclaim, is highly recommended and is a very worthwhile read. Although its purpose was to encourage a more positive approach to the way we face the end of our lives, it was an incredibly difficult read which I suspect will move even the most impassive person to tears. I must admit it brought me to my knees even though I tried to resist its wrenching emotional effect.

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About omasvoice

Who am I? I am you. I am everyone out there who loves to read and discuss and voice an opinion!
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, Books for Adults, Non-Fiction. Bookmark the permalink.

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