When Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi | Review


“At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. 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 evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air, which features a Foreword by Dr. Abraham Verghese and an Epilogue by Kalanithi’s wife, Lucy, chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a naïve medical student “possessed,” as he wrote, “by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life” into a young neurosurgeon at Stanford, guiding patients toward a deeper understanding of death and illness, and finally into a patient and a new father to a baby girl, confronting his own mortality.

What makes 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? These are some of the questions Kalanithi wrestles with in this profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir.”

  • I’m sure I don’t need to introduce you to this book. It’s been everywhere. Highly praised and raved about. All that for a good reason. If you by some miracle you haven’t heard about it (please, explain how you managed to do that), “When Breath Becomes Air” is a memoir of a talented neurosergueon who at the finishline of his decades of medical training was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer.
  • Although it’s been a while since I finished reading this book only now I feel comfortable enough to share my thoughts.
  • Rarely you meet  books as impactful as this one. This is not only story of a man’s fight with an illness. It is a man’s journey from being a doctor responsible for other people’s lives to becoming a patient. It’s about reevaluating your life and finding your new identity (or maybe just tayloring your old one to the circumstances? Or the other way around?). Does it have all the answers? Yes and no. And that’s the beauty of it.
  • What really moved me about Paul himself was his attitude towards his patients. He had the calling (even though becoming a doctor wasn’t his original carrer path). You could feel it from the way he described his path towards medicine. He saw his patients not only as cases and body parts (attitude so common among surgeons). He never underestimated humanism as a core of medicine.
  • Also, I do strongly believe that this should be read by any aspiring doctor. It won’t teach you compassion but it will show you the way towards it. It proves how much holistic care matters regardless of field of your medical interests.
  • To wrap it up. I’m so incredibly grateful that Paul decided to share his story with us. I can see myself rereading this book many times in the future.
  • Regardless of your background, whether you are a doctor/med or nursing student or have absolutely nothing to do with medicine, you should read it. It will have its inpact on you. No matter what.




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