By Chet Yarbrough
When Breath Becomes Air
Written by: Paul Kalnithi with foreword from Abraham Verghese
Narration by: Sunil Malhotra, Cassandra Campbell
PAUL KALANITHI (AUTHOR, NEUROSURGEON)
“When Breath Becomes Air” memorializes a disease that ravages lungs. Paul Kalanithi did not die from the Corona Virus but from a type of a cancer that attacks lung function. The Corona Virus is not a cancer. But, the Corona Virus creates an infection that simultaneously reduces our immune response. The primary organ of attack by Covid19 are lungs that cannot process air.
Paul Kalanitihi’s book seems an apt tribute to brave health care workers and others in the face of today’s Covid19 pandemic. Kalanithi writes about his life. It is a short life, infused with stress, success, and failure. Paul Kalnithi is the son of Indian immigrants who grows up in Kingman, Arizona. (Kingman is a town of less than 29,000 people lying between Las Vegas luck and Phoenix senior living.)
Paul’s parents, particularly his mother, demand much from their children. Paul is exposed to the classics of literature at an early age to supplement his private school education. His educational interest is split between literature and science.
PAUL KALANITHI’S PARENTS (A MEDICAL PHYSIOLOGIST AND A CARDIOLOGIST LIVE IN KINGMAN, AZ)
Paul is accepted at Stanford to pursue certification as a neurosurgeon. His motivation to become a doctor is partly based on a desire to understand the meaning of life. If there is meaning, Paul believes it lies in the lacunae of the mind.
PAUL AND LUCY KLANITHI WITH DAUGHTER CADY
Within one year of Paul’s ten year journey to graduation, he is struck with lung cancer. After a first round of treatment, Paul’s cancer is in remission and he returns to Stanford to finish his residency.
As he nears completion of residency, the cancer reasserts itself and Paul decides to write “When Breath Becomes Air” to explain what he believes about life.
There are many messages to humanity in “When Breath Becomes Air”. It is founded on insight drawn from what Paul Klanithi has read and what he has experienced. No life is without stress and failure. The best one hopes for is to live and leave life as decently as Paul Kalnithi. He died at 37. He was at the peak of his career.
Every death is a tragedy to a family that has lost a loved one. America has lost over 33,000 human beings as of April 16, 2020, some famous, some not. Those who choose to listen to “When Breath Becomes Air” will look at life differently. Not because of belief in God or the fallibility of human beings, but because we all live between Las Vegas luck and Phoenix senior living.
Paul Klanithis’ memoir reminds one of an American President who fails to acknowledge his errors.
Without acknowledgment of error, there is no forgiveness.
Our hearts go out to the health care workers, safety officers, farmers, public employees, news reporters, grocery employees, and volunteers that risk their lives every day to keep America healthy, informed, and safe.