Monday, 13 May 2019

'When Breath Becomes Air' by Paul Kalanithi - Book review


There are books that break your heart. And then there are books that create a hole in your chest so deep that it may take a long time to get repaired. These are the books that touch the nerves inside you that hurt the most, strip you of all the faux coping mechanisms under which you have covered yourself and then leave you out in the cold letting those nerves hurt, and hurt hard.

Paul Kalanithi's 'When Breath Becomes Air' is one such book for me. The book though started on a bleak note with a long foreword and a lot of details about Paul's education, his words started touching those raw nerves when he talks about his journey, first as a medical student, then as a doctor and later as a patient.

'When Breath Becomes Air' talks about mortality and life in the rawest words possible. Paul's confessions as a doctor, sympathy towards his patients, the urge to understand the patient-doctor relationship that is laced with limitations and exhilaration both, his responsibility as a neurosurgeon and his quest to understand life and death make you adore him for the person and the doctor that he was. The only thought crosses your mind at this point is 'If only. If only all the doctors in today's times were like him.    

And then starts the narrative of his own journey as a cancer patient at the age of thirty six when life was looking more promising than ever. But as they say, life is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans. During his suffering as a patient, he keeps going back to thinking about the times when the roles were reverse. 

All through the book, you can feel the urgency. The urgency to tell so many things, the urgency to pour everything out, the urgency of time - the most limited resource he had. The book tears you up with a epilogue written by his wife. The details she captured about his death, about her climbing into the bed with him one last time when he was about to let go is heart wrenching. 

I don't know if this book tore me apart because I have a history of losing someone too close to this disease seventeen years ago. And it still hurts the same. But then it is said that when something comes straight from the heart, it hits hard. And a dying man's words couldn't have come from anywhere else. 

This book goes undoubtedly to my list of most loved books. Go read. And get your heart broken a little bit. 

Quoting a few lines that I loved from the book. 
“All of medicine, not just cadaver dissection, trespasses into sacred spheres. Doctors invade the body in every way imaginable. They see people at their most vulnerable, their most scared, their most private. They escort them into the worlds and then back out. Seeing the body as a matter and mechanism is the flip side to easing the most profound human suffering”.

Learning to judge whose lives could be saved, whose couldn’t be, and whose shouldn’t be requires an unattainable prognostic ability.”  

“When there’s no space for the scalpel, words are the surgeon’s only tool.”

"If the weight of mortality doesn't grow lighter, does it at least grow familiar?”

“Part of the cruelty of cancer, though, is not only that it limits your time; it also limits your energy, vastly reducing the amount you can squeeze into a day”

“Death may be a onetime event, but living with terminal illness is a process”




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