THE NEW YORK TIMES NUMBER ONE BESTSELLER THE SUNDAY TIMES NUMBER ONE BESTSELLER SHORTLISTED FOR THE WELLCOME BOOK PRIZE 2017 'Finishing this book and then forgetting about it is simply not an option...Unmissable' New York Times At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, the next he was a patient struggling to live. When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a medical student asking what makes a virtuous and meaningful life into a neurosurgeon working in the core of human identity – the brain – and finally into a patient and a new father. What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when when life is catastrophically interrupted? What does it mean to have a child as your own life fades away? Paul Kalanithi died while working on this profoundly moving book, yet his words live on as a guide to us all. When Breath Becomes Air is a life-affirming reflection on facing our mortality and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a gifted writer who became both.
“Will having a newborn distract from the time we have together?" she asked. “Don't you think saying goodbye to your child will make your death more painful?”
“Wouldn't it be great if it did?” I said. Lucy and I both felt that life wasn't about avoiding suffering.
Years ago, it had occurred to me that Darwin and Nietzsche agreed on one thing: the defining characteristic of the organism is striving.
I came to believe that it is irresponsible to be more precise than you can be accurate. Those apocryphal doctors who gave specific numbers (“The doctor told me I had six months to live”): Who were they, I wondered, and who taught them statistics?
The families who gather around their beloved-their beloved whose sheared heads contained battered brains- do not usually recognize the full significance, either. They see the past, the accumulation of memories, the freshly felt love, all represented by the body before them. I see the possible futures, the breathing machines connected through a surgical opening in the neck, the pasty liquid dripping in through a hole in the belly, the possible long, painful, and only partial recovery-or, sometimes more likely, no return at all of the person they remember. In these moments, I acted not, as I most often did, as death's enemy, but as its ambassador. I had to help those families understand that the person they knew-the full, vital independent human- now lived only in the past and that I needed their input to understand what sort of future he or she would want.