Tuesday, April 11, 2017

"When breath becomes air"

I have been haunted by the book "When breath becomes air." No book has made me ponder about life and death that much. No book has left me in tears that much. I listened to it once. When i listened to it again, my eyes still got wet. Everyone has to face death at one point but some deaths are extremely cruel.

The book is a memoir of a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalannithi, who faced an early death from lung cancer.  Paul was a gifted resident at Stanford. He served as a chief of residency and got offered by the University of Wisconsin for a dream job as a head of neurology Department with a million dollar offered for his research when he was close to the end of his residency. Paul went through a long and painful journey to find the meaning of his life and embrace death, in particular when he transformed from a neurosurgeon into a dying patient with a very short time to live. Just right when he was about to graduate his residency to spread his wings, start his career out of training, and start a family with his wife, he got diagnosed with improbable lung cancer. Through his residency at Stanford, he learnt to face and accept the mortality when a disease was not curable.  He also had to face death of his gifted co-worker who committed suicide after a complicated case. However things were different when he had to face his own death. One day he was a doctor treating the dying one day and became a patient struggling to live the next day. Through his disease, he found the meaning of his life again. He followed his calling to be a neurosurgeon, and to continue saving patients through his sickness. He collapsed with exhaustion and pain from work at home every night but he stood up again the next day. He always referred back to his favorite quote "I can't go on. I'll go on" when needed.  The day he graduated from his program was the day he had to hang up his white coat forever. It was the last day he practiced medicine. It was the day he was about to die.

It was a long and brutal journey for him to get to the point in which he had to accept his death, and to eventually tell his wife that "he was ready." Ready to die. Paul died in 2015 at the age of 37 when his daughter was 8 months old. The book was completed posthumously.

 Paul bravely unpacked his life story to tell us how to live and how to die. Paul's story successfully tells me that time is infinite but limited to every one. Don't let it slip away. Make sure you know how to use your time meaningfully so you won't regret it later.
As the book says 'What happened to Paul is tragic but he is not a tragedy." Paul died but he left a legacy of love, inspiration, passion, and compassion.  His words continue to live on.

 "Life is not about avoiding suffering; It's about creating meaning".  

One day, I will gift Ryan this book!

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