I honestly cannot remember how I stumbled upon this book, but I think I saw it on one of my social media platforms and later added it to my AnyBooks reading list.
I have had it for a really long time, and just recently decided to read it. If you’ve watched the series ‘The Resident,’ then you may be in a slightly better position to picture Paul, the author, as he talks about working as a resident.
Also, reading a memoir where the author knows he is dying and you know that he will be dead by the end of it just took me to a whole other level.
Paul Kalanithi became a neurosurgeon because he felt compelled by neurosurgery and its unforgiving call to perfection. For him, it seemed to present the most challenging and direct confrontation with meaning, identity, and death.
He came from a medical family, and at first, had no wish to become a doctor himself. Seeing his father rather the absence of his father and knowing that medicine meant going to work before dawn and returning in the dark made his resolve even stronger.
So he studied English literature and human biology, and then took a master’s in history and philosophy of science. His hope in studying this was to find out what made life meaningful. In the end, he was disappointed.
As he thought of a career after completing his undergraduate degree, medicine is what seemed to be the better option. For him, putting lifestyle first is how you find a job – not a calling. With that, he opted for neurosurgery.
And so, his calling/career begun…
He endures the long hours of training, the death of patients and decisions he has to make in saving or terminating life, even guilt. One of his colleagues ends up killing himself over an operative mistake.
Through it all, he emerges successful.
Just about at the peak of his success, he starts having back pains that he dismisses, and so his cancer diagnosis is made later on.
As he recounts the months of treatment, and prolonged remission, it just makes me realize that even doctors, with all the access to medicine and technology that they have, are not exempted from this disease.
He describes the negotiation between hope and the acceptance of death, and the complexity of discussions with his oncologist, especially because different chemotherapy treatments provide temporary reprieve only and become toxic.
During this period, he completes his training and comes close to accepting the job of his dreams, but then realizes that it is only a fantasy that he will live long enough to take it up. So he turns it down.
Knowing that he is soon to die, he and his wife decide to have a child.
And although he dies when his daughter can barely understand what is going on, he dies surrounded by his family… exactly 22 months since being diagnosed with lung cancer.
Paul spent much of his life wrestling with the question of how to live a meaningful life. In the book, he literally teaches us to face death with integrity.
There’s a verse he quotes from the Bible that just brings a summary of his life into context, “I sent you to reap what you have not worked for; others have done the work, and you are sharing the fruits of their labor.” (John 4:38)
What are you doing with your life? What legacy would you like to leave behind?
Until next time, all my love