There have been some terrific memoirs by doctors that have been mentioned in past blog posts—My Own Country by Abraham Verghese, Being Mortal by Atul Gawande and Black Man in a White Coat by Damon Tweedy . Now comes current bestseller When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. All of these thought-provoking and compelling autobiographical works can be found on the shelves of the Monrovia Public Library.
Paul Kalanithi always sought out challenges. As a child his parents moved from New York to the Arizona desert and his life changed completely. His mother was constantly seeking the best education for her children and his father was a cardiologist devoted to his patients. The author went on to Stanford and studied English and pre-med courses. After sampling a variety of medical specialties he chose the most strenuous-neurology-where strategy, precision, speed and endurance matter. Sometimes working 24 hours a day, he spent much of his time doing surgery. Just as he was about to complete his grueling years of study and graduate he felt an ominous pain in his back. He had stage IV lung cancer. The doctor was now the patient.
Paul Kalanithi died in 2015 before finishing When Breath Becomes Air, a deeply affecting life story and reflection on how his sudden illness and extreme decline caused him to say “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?” His wife finished the book, her final chapter paying homage to an extraordinary man who wrote and lived with such depth.