When breath becomes air

This is not a review as such about the book by Paul Kalanithi but essentially the questions that popped in my mind when reading the book. There is no doubt we have lost such a dedicated, talented neurosurgeon. It’s very sad to see that after all the efforts he has put in, when it was time to reap the benefits he was affected by lung cancer. In these days of corporate hospitals where medical profession has become just another money minting business, we get to see very few people like Paul Kalanithi who don’t look at it like a job but as their calling and dedicate their lives for the suffering of the people.
The point about taking up something just as a job vs. taking it up as your calling has really struck me. I guess that makes all the difference between how seriously we take our work and how much we enjoy doing it even if it demands insane amounts of our time and energy. Be it any profession, I think if everyone gives a serious thought to what they really want to do rather than what benefits/social status a job provides, the world would be a much better place.
Another point that lingers in my mind is about what is considered to be a meaningful life? This might sound contradictory to the above point about doing what your calling is and dedicating entirely to what you want to do. The point is about where to draw a line between work and experiencing the pleasures of life. Maybe for some people, their work and call of duty is the way of life rather than ephemeral pleasures of life. In my view there has to be a right mix of a stoic and an epicurean. One cannot be living life to full potential by being at either one of the two extremes.
At one point in the book he mentions about his regular lunch in the hospital which is just a diet coke and an ice-cream sandwich. I was shocked and also felt sad that inspite of knowing all the ills of processed food, sugary drinks, etc how can the doctors themselves live on these? I agree that this point is totally tangential to the crux of what the book is about but I couldn’t really digest the fact that inspite of the knowledge we have, we sometimes neglect or ignore doing what is right for us. People who know me well and about my recent inclination towards avoiding processed food and going organic way might think I always come back to this topic no matter what the context is about :). However I seriously feel that this is something that should not be taken lightly and more importantly in the light of recent studies about the impact of processed foods on our health and environment.
Though there is lot of research pointing to the processed foods and chemicals as one of the common reasons for cancers in the past few decades, I still don’t get the point why nothing is being done to at least label these foods appropriately. It also reminded me about an article from food babe recently about the cafeterias in hospitals selling all this processed food instead of serving healthy food options. Why can’t the hospitals at least start serving fresh and healthy food instead of selling processed fast food? I am not saying that food or hectic schedule was the culprit in Paul Kalanithi’s case. All I’m trying to say is that we could at least reduce the probability of cancers by avoiding processed foods as much as possible and reducing a bit of stress in our lives. It was saddening to see a person end up with cancer while he himself was into the profession of treating cancers.

I was really amazed by how he has become a neurosurgeon (the toughest stream in medicine) while starting off with B.A in literature. This is like a lesson to all of us with mental blocks that we cannot learn or do something else than what we studied. I am happy that I read this book and hope to imbibe at least some of the good points in my day-to-day life. May his soul rest in peace.

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