Join us on June 6, 2017, from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. for “Facilitated Book Discussion: When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi,” presented as part of Community Medical School. This event is free and open to the public. It will take place in the Reardon Classroom (Medical Education Center Room 300). Learn more.
Several recent books have enriched the discussion of death, dying, and grief in America, such as Joan Didion’s Year of Magical Thinking, Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal, and now Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air. As poignant in its personal revelation as Didion and as insightful about the challenges facing health care as Gawande, Kalanithi’s inspiring memoir is a lyrical reflection on what happens when someone who has dedicated his life to saving lives is confronted with his own impending death, at the young age of 37.
Dr. Kalanithi was just completing extensive training in neurosurgery—after having earned a masters degree in literature—when he was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer. In the blink of an eye he went from treating physician to critically ill patient, and the dreams he and his wife had of setting out on their professional careers and starting a family appeared to vanish. He had planned to practice medicine for the first half of his career and then become a writer for the second half, but with time suddenly precious he knew he had to share what he was thinking and experiencing with the world.
He did so, in a lyrical reflection whose title is drawn from a 17th century sonnet, reflecting his no-nonsense approach to death as a part of life, even as he struggled to postpone its arrival. Blessed with a brief reprieve thanks to an experimental therapy, he used that time to bring together all that he had learned, and to leave behind a memorial for his daughter, who was born less than a year before he died.
Honest, poignant, literate, and funny, When Breath Becomes Air explores some of the most profound topics, and is also a compelling and moving read. UVM Community Medical School will host a discussion of the book on June 6 at 6 p.m. and all are welcome.
Robert Macauley, MD, Professor of Pediatrics and Medical Director, Clinical Ethics