When Breath Becomes Air

Paul Kalanithi

Written text

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 treating the dying the next he was a patient on the brink of dying. Just like that, the bright future that his wife and he had imagined evaporated. The book ‘When Breath Becomes Air’ shows the transformation of Kalanithi as a Medical student into the demanding life of a neurosurgeon and finally into a patient and a new father faced with death.

The theme Endurance is addressed throughout all 228 pages. This is shown when Paul says, “I can’t go on. I’ll go on.” This shows us that what everybody thought was that he can’t possibly carry on doing surgery but he’s adamant that he’ll endure the pain and keep doing what nobody though was possible. What Kalanithi did shows pure determination and would have made an already highly demanding job even harder. The quote, “You can’t ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving.” Displays a very correct statement. This is as it’s impossible to not ever make a mistake which would show perfection but instead you strive for this to give you an endless aim. One that you will aim for, your whole career.

This connects with the rest of the world as there are many people who have been faced with the prospect of dying or have because of something that is uncontrollable and untreatable. What most people do is spend the rest of their time worrying about it and not doing what they want. Whereas the view of Paul Kalanithi shows that you should do what you enjoy and accept that you have a life-threatening disease. Kalanithi says, “Life wasn’t about avoiding suffering.” This shows us that he knew that he would eventually die and that you shouldn’t spend your entire life trying to find an easy route around things instead deal with what you’ve got and move on.

This teaches us that the world we live in even the healthiest people can get a life-threatening disease. Paul Kalanithi had never smoked in his life but still managed to get lung cancer with under a 0.1% chance. This shows us that there is always a chance that you could get it even if all odds are against you. Kalanithi spent most of his life learning to become a neurosurgeon but then one thing got in his way, he was able to soak it in and not pointlessly argue it because he knew that this wouldn’t help. He said, “Any major illness transforms a patient’s—really, an entire family’s—life.” He saw this as he got terminally ill, his whole family would come and sit with him and help. This changed their lives as well, but they had to adjust to the new circumstances. Kalanithi questions himself, “What makes life meaningful enough to go on living?” This exact question is the hardest decision for every terminally ill human. Paul was able to make this decision, by knowing that he wasn’t going to live an enjoyable life anymore so it was time to pull the plug. This wasn’t an easy decision and never will be for any person, but being able to make this decision shows a very strong mental strength.

This book connects with my personal viewpoints as you will always be faced with problems not all life threatening but ones that could change your life. How you deal with these is completely your choice but the way Paul Kalanithi dealt with cancer is a very rare occasion and one I support. I believe that there is no easy way in life and you have to make the best out of every occasion even if it’s a bad one. These decisions will show who you are as a person.

I would recommend this book as it is life changing and will change your view on a lot of things. The structure and language features used, keep the reader engaged and emotionally attached. As the New York Times said, “A great, indelible book…I guarantee that finishing this book and then forgetting about it is simply not an option”. Gabriel Weston, “Searingly intelligent, beautifully written, and beyond brave, I haven’t been so marked by a book in years.


July, term three

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