Paul Kalanithi's 'When Breath Becomes Air'

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When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi is a unique three-part narrative that follows a variety of perspectives while following the transformation – both physically and spiritually – of Kalanithi. Following his diagnosis of Stage IV metastatic lung cancer, the Stanford University neurosurgical resident found himself once again questioning: “What makes human life meaningful?” Through his education, both in the humanities and the sciences, Kalanithi found that literature and medicine supplement one another. By having the relationship he does with literature and medicine, Kalanithi is a step above other physicians from a humanistic standpoint. By focusing specifically on the significance of the passage above, the way in which the two subjects complement one another can be further analyzed and appreciated – a concept that arguably seems to be lacking in modern medicine. Kalanithi actively uses imagery and metaphor to dissect this passage’s message. For…show more content…
Most obviously, the passage displays the struggle that Kalanithi felt throughout his life, being pulled in multiple directions. However, it differs throughout his journey with cancer. Prior to his diagnosis, he deals with the division between literature and medicine. Once he is diagnosed, he is faced with the decision either to retire or to continue practicing surgery. Especially towards the end of his battle with cancer, this internal conflict intensifies, leading to the slogan he even became depend on: “I can’t go on... I’ll go on” (149, Kalanithi). Finally, upon his death, readers become intertwined in Kalanithi’s decision of a Do Not Resuscitate order or resuscitation. In addition to his decision, the passage details how Kalanithi can so eloquently decipher concepts that would otherwise be foreign to the readers, such as medicine, surgery, and the simple behind-the-scenes of hospital
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