BEST When Breath Becomes Air Summary, pdf 2021

when breath becomes air summary

This is a story of neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi which shows his journey from his teenage to death.

So let’s dive into when breath becomes air summary.

When Breath Becomes Air Summary

I was turning the images of my CT scan, lungs are in a very bad condition and the shape of the spinal cord has deteriorated completely, a large part of the liver is also dying. cancer, world famous disease.

My name is Paul, I am a neurosurgeon and in my final year, my studies are almost over. I have spent my whole life studying neurosurgeon.

I have been doing these scans, etc., I have done so much that now it has become a habit, finally one day this disease put me on the bed of the hospital.

My wife Lucy was sitting with me in the hospital, she asks is there still hope, what is the possibility?

I said no, we held each other’s hand very tightly like young lovers who have just fallen in love.

For the past few years, both of us were suspicious, but we were refusing to believe that I have a cancer

We did not even talk among ourselves that cancer is growing in me.

For the last six months, I realized that my weight has started to decrease suddenly and there is great pain in the back, then at that time I went to my primary care doctor.

Get that x-ray done. I was scared of the name of the x-ray.

I got x ray done, I was feeling that I have cancer but still I consoled myself and told myself who gets cancer at the age of 37.

What the hell am I thinking? There was no problem in x ray which made me happy and I started doing my work with enthusiasm.

But after a few weeks, my weight decreased even more and I started feeling chest pain, I felt another chest x-ray should be done. Then my wife saw that I am doing some research these days, on what, cancer.

Can people get cancer at my age?

And my wife Lucy had a lot of trouble knowing that I was hiding something from her.

That week we both planned to have a vacation in New York, but my wife Lucy refused to go there.

She started behaving strangely and suspected that I was hiding something.

After meeting some therapist, I planned to go on a trip alone because by this time I had guessed that I really have cancer.

I have a lot of pain in the back during the flight.

Then there I got a call from my doctor and they told me that your x-rays have come blurred, we are unable to understand what is the problem but I understood what has happened to me.

I understood that I have cancer. I came back from the trip before time and after coming back, I told Lucy about it, she was shocked.

And then said I am with you. After that, I have been brought here and slammed on the bed of the hospital, I have seen many patients in this hospital room.

My heart seems to think that when I have gone and congratulated the family members of the patients when the patient was cured, and when the patient passed away, I have given sad news to his family members. I started thinking about what my future would be.

I am very softly told my wife sitting in the hospital, I said “I need you“, so she answered me, I will never leave you.

Let’s start the story from when my health was perfect. I was in my teenage days. I was just about to start going to college.

My father, who was a doctor himself, so, I spent my childhood around medicines, but there is one thing that I will never become a doctor. Actually, I did not want to become a doctor and at that time I felt that I deserved to be a writer.

Till college admission, I was not aware of what to do in the future. My father was more interested in his profession, father used to live outside the house and he used to concentrate on his practice. They had put us in college.

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Since childhood, I was a man of freedom, my childhood had passed near the nature.

One more thing that my parents had run away and got married from South India to New York. Father was Christian and mother was Hindu.

Their families didn’t like it my mother was very much aware about our education because the place where we lived, there was not any good school, mother had little interest in literature, because of her.

My interest also moved towards literature. When I read Shakespeare’s Hamlet and after reading such books, my interest in reading books increased greatly.

Books became my close friends. My two brothers are named, Suman and Jivan. It is true that we brothers got a good education because of our mother.

When high school was over, my girlfriend gave me a 500 pages novel Saturn, girlfriend is different here and my wife is different.

It was not good at reading, but by this point, you must have understood how much interest I had towards English literature.

I had to go towards Biology. In Stanford, I used to take a class of literature along with biology and neuroscience. I got both degree in English literature and human biology.

But now the question was what do I have to do next in life, what is the meaning of life? Literature relaxes the mind but what is next in life, I had read a very wonderful poem written by T. S. Eliot.

He wrote a very, world famous Poem that I loved very much.

But now I had a dilemma about whether I want to get book knowledge throughout my life. Practical life will also have to be lived, experience will have to be done sometime.

So I decided that I would join the research center camp to do an internship. Now in spite of completion of graduation, I wanted to continue my studies, so I thought that I have so much interest in English, so why not do MA in English and I started doing MA for my thesis and I chose Walt Whitman for my thesis.

When we read literature, everyone has a favorite part, a favorite writer, novelist, etc. But I do not know why I was not getting a practical experience from reading literature, the fun that should be had was not coming.


Science was pulling me towards. I thought about how to learn biology, morality, literature, and philosophy together, and the answer was, I should become a doctor.

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After finishing the degree I came to the US and joined the Yale School of Medicine. For the first time in my life, I cut a dead body with a small knife, in front of me, that body was lying on the table.

There I realized how much patience a doctor needs to have. People consider the doctor’s profession very easy. Every day you have to see dying in front of your eyes. There I met Lucy. She also felt the same.

When she was studying, she had a patient who could not survive and passed away, by seeing him she started crying a lot.

That day I came to know that the work of a doctor is not so easy, Too much mental strength is required. many things had to bear.

There is a lot of responsibility over a doctor, people see a doctor like God because they expect from the doctors. This is what I learned for 2 years, at that time I saw a case that newborn babies were born. When I went to give good news to his family, then I found on the next day that newborn babies passed away during the day.

A nurse told me this. Doctors get an idea of how much time their patients can survive when they see their patients

This is what I was learning there. Now medical school also came to an end, so jobs started being taken care of. I decided to do neurosurgery. By the time medical school was over. After that I married Lucy, then we came to California and both of us started training.

There was a lot of paperwork in the initial years here. Which did not seem so difficult.

I met many people and got a lot of experience too, on the sixth year of training when my neurosurgery was about to end.

I call this year black hole of my life. Do you know why? In this year most of my time was spent in the operation theatre. I had to do operations of 16 hours every day, sometimes if the condition of the patient was bad, then I had to do overtime also.

How time went was not known, because I was lost in my work. Doctors have to work with full concentration, Because our small mistake could endanger the patient’s life, just training was about to end.

I understood almost all the responsibilities of the doctor.

Meaning that I thought about achieving the goal in life, I was almost going to achieve it but then I got a call one day, I had a friend Victoria in my medical school, she told me that our friend named Jeff, committed suicide by jumping from the roof of the building.

That day, I felt that if Jeff had stayed a little longer, I would have been able to tell him a lot of about my career.

Death ultimately wins but we must fight till the end. Now the story comes in the present, so I could not even achieve my goal, and today I am lying here on the bed of the hospital, the daily report of the CT scan is coming, which I am watching with my wife.

In it, we came to know that cancer has reached many organs. Me and Lucy cried at that time, Lucy said to me Paul, I love you very much, I said Lucy I am afraid of death, what will happen to you after me?

You get married again and my brother Jivan came to meet me there, it became very difficult to pass a moment in the hospital.

12 – 12 hours duty, after spending 14 – 14 hours in operation theater after giving so much time.

I had almost reached my goal. But even that could not be completed. One thing was sad that it was so sure that death was very close.

I again asked the doctor, at least can you tell me how much time I have, how long I will live.

But that doctor was staunch, she did not tell me. She did not want that I think bad, she wanted that I thought optimistic and think well.

With this passing time, I saw my body getting weaker, I was losing weight, I was seeing my bones sticking to the skin, I was very thin.

I had to do basic things with the help of my wife and other family member till now I had become very used to this CT scan and I was not interested in it.

To have it done daily. But my doctor called me for a CT scan and said that you see yourself your cancer is decreasing now, my cancer was starting to decrease.

Just then a hope arose in me that I can live, then at that time I asked my doctor if I can complete my study of neurosurgery.

My doctor said if you have so much desire, then I will not stop you. I started my physical therapy. After that, I started getting both strength and stamina.

I asked my wife Lucy that we should plan a baby now and when my studies are almost over, we have planned a baby, But Lucy feared that as soon as a child was born, it should not happen that you could not see your child growing up and he/she could not see your face.

So I left this decision on Lucy. I thought for a long time that If I die, the baby Lucy will have to be raised.

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So I left the decision on the same but Lucy was ready. Thinking that our child will be a moment of happiness in this time of grief.

At this time I had almost finished my studies. I was engaged in my treatments. I did not do much work. Rest was very important for my body.

I had a CT scan and it was found out that cancer that was in my lungs has almost cleared and cancer has stopped.

It had become stable. Then what happened was, I went into the operation theater again and decided that I will not let my career stop because I have to live, I continued to do surgeries but the workload kept increasing with each passing day.

Seven months had passed since the same routine was done back. By this time my wife was also pregnant and then another CT scan took place, in this CT scan it was a shock to know that a new type of cancer has started to grow in my lungs.

At that time, I went to the hospital to do my last surgery and when I came back in the car, I remember well, I started crying badly.

On my graduation day, I started having vomiting, It was not stopping and was not coming under control. For a week I was shifted back to the hospital. When I came home from there, and after two days, a daughter was born in my house on 2 July.

My daughter came as a joy in my sad life. Paul did not write his book further. But in the last, he has written a final message for his daughter that tomorrow his daughter might grow up and read this book.

He has written that you have given me the greatest joy by being born. You have given me the biggest happiness in life.

After this, he does not write this book. This book is finished by her wife, she writes that her condition worsened, continued to deteriorate, and deteriorated a lot.

He was taking to bed and his entire family had gathered around. His condition was deteriorating with time.

In December, when his daughter caddy turned five months old. His third treatment took place, the strength was completely gone. The bones had started appearing and he lay on the bed.

He wanted that his book should be complete. Then as spring season approached, paul was applied with an oxygen mask. We were all in the room and I kept the caddy in my lap.

His mother and father were all sitting on the side and were family members and apart from this no one else.

At that time, he was called T.S. Eliot’s wasteland was missing. Everyone started laughing and smiling that while dying, which man is reading Poem, but that man read, but the next day suddenly he got 104 degree fever.

We all understood that there is not much time left. He was shifted back to the hospital that same evening. He was having trouble breathing. The ambulance was called. Applied oxygen mask and shifted to hospital.

Whatever doctors could do, they did. After all, the doctors called me and told me that he was going to end.

Now tell me what can we do? I said you do one thing, you guys remove all their devices. They need a peaceful sleep.

In his last time, paul caught his eight-month-old daughter and I lay on the hospital bed near him and in this last moment, he caught his daughter in her arm and broke her breath for the last time.

At 9 o’clock he took a deep breath and the whole hospital was watching this scene.

They were looking at paul’s bravery and I am his wife, lucy witness of it. Friends this story ends here, but unfortunately, writer Paul Kalanithi is no longer among us.

Human knowledge is never contained in one person. It grows from the relationships we create between each other and the world, and still it is never complete.

Paul Kalanithi

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When Breath Becomes Air Review

paul kalanithi
Paul Kalanithi

From Tamil Culture

This was a sad story of neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi. This book tells us the most horrible truth of our life- death. Everyone has to face it. Some people face suddenly, but some people face slowly-slowly.

This is the most bad situation, when you know that when you’ll die, but you can’t do anything.

This book tells this situation with in a very detailed manner. I recommend this book to those who really want to the importance of life. The meaning of why we are living?

Goodreads rating 4.36 out of 5

When Breath Becomes Air Review by the Guardian

Read Man’s search for Meaning to understand it in right way.


After reading it, I understand the importance of my life. Your life not only important for you but also important for others- your family members, friends, etc.

So, always make others happy because I think this is the best way to live life.

Thanks for Reading when breath becomes air summary

About the author



Hi, I'm Hasib Ahmed, founder of Book Briefers. I am Content Writer and book lover. I love to spread the knowledge to people.

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