When Breath Becomes Air

When Breath Becomes Air is a memoir written by late Dr.Paul Kalanithi. He decided to tell a story of his life when he was diagnosed with cancer. He was a neurosurgery resident towards the end of his training at the time, which means he was so close to the finish line after spendings years and years in school. He did not have time to finish the book, so his wife wrapped it up with an epilogue.

"Medical training is relentlessly future-oriented, all about delayed gratification; you're always thinking about what you'll be doing five years down the line."

The book is a draft that needed more work, but somehow it became a part of why it is such a great read.  It was not polished to please readers or to give satisfaction of reading a book. I felt the raw incompleteness of his life that he and others imagined for him. There was no reason why it was his reality. It just was. It did not matter how much more he could have done with his life to give more to the world and others. He struggled to process his new reality while trying to reimagine his life with everything that entailed with his diagnosis. The story could easily be mine or my classmates', which is the reason why it really hits close to home for those of us in training to be physicians.

It is just tragic enough and just imaginable enough. [The reader] can get into these shoes, walk a bit, and say, 'So that's what it looks like from here... sooner or later I'll be back here in my own shoes."

I can't do justice trying to encompass everything about this book. I think New York Times did a really good review. I read it right after taking the first part of my board exam. I was really upset for a few days, which was probably aggravated by the stress I accumulated studying for the exam. 

It was literature that brought me back to life during this time. The monolithic uncertainty of my future was deadening; everywhere I turned, the shadow of death obscured the meaning of any action. I remember the moment when my overwhelming unease yielded, when that seemingly impassable sea of uncertainty parted. I woke up in pain, facing another day--no project beyond breakfast seemed tenable. I can't go on, I thought, and immediately, its antiphone responded, completing Samuel Beckett's seven words, words I had learned long ago as an undergraduate: I'll go on

Emotionally it might not have been a good time to read this book. However, it was the perfect time to remind myself that I must learn to live through my journey rather than to suspend my life trying to reach the destination that is completely unknown. It is the very same resolution that I had reached after reading Hot Lights, Cold Steel by Dr.Collins and forgotten about.