When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

A Legacy Of Love

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi is a powerful work of non-fiction that charts the author’s journey from neurosurgeon to cancer patient.

The book is beautifully and simply penned, as if the author were addressing a dear friend and not writing a book. The result is that by the end of the book, the reader feels like they have lost a dear friend.

There is a genuine feeling of loss – of what Paul Kalanithi could have achieved as a surgeon, of his daughter and wife having their years ahead without him. But there is also a feeling of celebration, too – Paul Kalanithi left behind a legacy of love – love in the hearts of his family, colleagues and patients.

The first half of the book introduces the reader to Paul Kalanithi the surgeon. He is not a surgeon without empathy, he treats every patient he meets as a person. “I had met her in a space where she was a person, instead of a problem to be solved.”

Paul Kalanithi recognized the need to connect with his patients. They needed his skill set as a surgeon and they needed his words as a fellow human being. “When there’s no place for the scalpel, words are the surgeon’s only tool.”

The second half of the book is Paul Kalanithi’s life as a patient. We witness his acceptance, his bravery and his determination. We see his love for his wife, daughter and family.

The final chapter is written by Paul Kalanithi’s wife Lucy. We see her love for her husband and daughter.

Paul Kalanithi was a remarkable person. He loved literature. He loved medicine. He loved his wife and daughter. He lived a life of love. He left a legacy of love.


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