I finished to When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi this week.
It is such an exceptional read/listen that I am loathe to say much about it. It is the memoir of a young neurosurgeon who is diagnosed with aggressive cancer months before he is set to graduate from his residency training. He faces his terminal diagnosis with such grace, clarity, and bravery.
Before he chose to pursue medicine, he'd considered being a writer, so when he found himself at his truncated life, he returned to writing and this breathtaking book is the result.
I laughed at myself during one of his surgical anecdotes. He was observing the pre-term caesarean delivery of twins. I had to turn it off for awhile--I could not "stomach" the description of the procedure. Not in one sitting. It's also strange to hear a surgery you have personally experienced described in such technical terms.
I had the privilege to volunteer at the pre-gathering for the School of Medicine's commencement program. I was surrounded by some of the best and brightest new physicians in the country. I helped them adjust the hoods that they wore for the ceremony. One of the things I do in my day job is to draft profiles for scholarship recipients. I am blown away by these students' stories. I enjoyed seeing them in person and recalling the anecdotes that led them to pursue medicine. It made listening to When Breath Becomes Air even more poignant and meaningful. And devastating.
His writing is so exquisite that it brought me to tears throughout the book and by the end I was audibly sobbing. I cried so hard (I needed a good cry) that I was exhausted when my tears finally dried.
The epilogue is written by his wife, Lucy. She said something that I haven't stopped thinking about: "What happened to Paul was tragic, but he was not a tragedy." What a beautiful way to frame the bad things that befall us all.
This TED Talk came to my inbox while I was still listening to the book. I didn't want to watch it until I finished his account. I have watched it, teared up, and marveled at the lessons this couple learned and their willingness to share them with us.
I wholeheartedly recommend this book.