Book Club: When Breath Becomes Air

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I started clinical rotations of my 3rd year 2 weeks ago. My first rotation has been in an outpatient setting, OMM focused. It is undeniably a less strenuous rotation than other fields, which has given me more time to read for fun. (Yay! I can’t really remember the last time I did that)

One of my preceptors recommended an audiobook he was currently listening to – “When Breath Becomes Air” by Paul Kalanith. I’m not a huge audiobooks person. I prefer to sit down and open a book. I have been warming up to the idea of e-books, and at first, I thought it was really difficult to enjoy. Lately, I have been enjoying the convenience of carrying a thin electronic that carries a selection of books versus a physical book. I purchased this book from the Apple Itunes library last weekend. I finished the book under a week, teared up a few times, with a grand finale waterworks show at the end. Without spoiling anything, the autobiography follows a neurosurgery resident (so close to graduating) and his sudden diagnosis of terminal lung cancer. It is shocking, but a reminder that rare events like this can happen – and even to doctors. My preceptor and I spoke about how it’s almost taboo to talk about a doctor getting sick, and we forget some times that we could one day also play the role of the patient. Like Dr. Kalanithi demonstrated, that isn’t an easy transition in roles. It’s hard for any of us to feel the loss of control. It’s definitely a book I would recommend to read for a perspective we often forget. That perspective which asks questions about “what makes our life worth living?”

After reading this, it made me ask myself the same questions. Although it’s not the first time I asked myself what and why, it often gets muddled away in the busy and stressful aspects of life. Getting disconnected from my own self is more common than I like to admit. Many thanks to Dr. Kalanithi for being brave enough to share his journey.

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