I believe that any student aspiring for a career in any of the health professions ought to read this book: When Breath Becomes Air by the late Paul Kalanithi. Only 0.0012% of adults aged thirty-six get lung cancer, yet Dr. Kalanithi was that statistic. But calling him such is a disservice because he was an incredible person, a caring, compassionate, dedicated surgeon, author, husband, and father whose legacy lives on in all those who remember him and read his work.
When Breath Becomes Air explores a host of very heavy but important topics such as the transition from doctor to patient, especially with a diagnosis of a terminal disease. Dr. Kalanithi beautifully examines the intersection between life and death and shares with the world how many of his experiences in the hospital, both as a physician and as a patient, shaped his thoughts.
One passage in particular struck a chord with me. A woman whose intestines he had in his hands during an autopsy was as much of a human as any other person who has walked this planet. And he understood the necessity of treating her as such and not as a statistic or a group of words and values that could be printed onto a paper or read from a computer screen. He writes, “From that point on, I resolved to treat all my paperwork as patients, and not vice versa.”
How telling! May we all adopt Dr. Kalanithi’s resolve and always remember to treat our patients appropriately.