A doctor who lived forever…

Food for thought

Just imagine a scenario – if you are a doctor and you are treating hundreds of patients daily. You know about their disease and the scientific reason behind it but you are still untouched by it and feel happy to serve others.

Just imagine the next scenario – You become the patient now and grappling with a serious disease. Instead of wearing a white dress, now you are wearing a green dress like a patient.

The above two scenarios may seem to be of tiny difference but it is not so in reality. This transition from a doctor to patient though seems to be a minor role-switch but it can have a huge impact on the person facing it. How do I know this? Because I read a book.

Read a book to live multiple life

I believe there are two ways of enriching ourselves with experience – one, to face it and live through it and second, to observe other’s life. Reading a book can act as a medium to enrich us by following the second option.

Bookstores inside the airport is my favorite hangout place. For the past few months, I was getting amazed by the cover of a book titled – “When breath becomes air” by Paul Kalanithi. I was planning to read it but then one of my colleague and a good roomie Devesh gifted it to me. Thanks to Devesh for such a nice gift.

What’s it all about?

This book is the reason why I am writing about above two scenarios. Paul Kalanithi grew up reading books. He had a good suburban life. He wrote-

“Books became my closest confidants, finely ground lenses providing new views of the world.”

But then came a time to decide the route for his future. A time to choose the career. He was so engrossed by the world of English literature and human biology that he chooses to attain excellence in both. Inspired by his interest and the zeal to reveal the complexity of life, he decided to opt for neurology as it involved the study of master of all – brain. He opted to become neurosurgeon. This field provided him the intersection point of biology, morality, literature and philosophy. He says in regards to choosing his career –

“I was driven less by achievement than by trying to understand, in earnest: What makes human life meaningful? I still felt literature provided the best account of the life of the mind, while neuroscience laid down the most elegant rules of the brain.”

His life was going all well but then he struck with lung cancer. And it changed everything. He started seeing life with the patient’s perspective which was missing in his role as a Doctor.

One of the most beautiful element of this book is the gradual transition from the role of Doctor to one of patient. The unique experience associated with these role is a must read.

During doctor phase-

He mentioned that as a resident (Doctor phase), his ideal was not saving lives – everyone dies eventually – but guiding a patient or family to an understanding of death or illness. It shows the initial conversation (and words) have the power to bring huge changes in the patient’s life. Second experience is of hope. He says that it is good to be accurate with the symptoms of disease but there always some room for hope. Medical Science may have covered a long distance but it still needs to knock the door of spiritualism sometimes. Third experience is a lesson which states that moment with patients has its emotional cost, but it also has its reward. Doctors are satisfied knowing that they are not just saving life of their patients, but also their identity or their being of existence. He says-

“Neurosurgery requires a commitment to one’s own excellence and a commitment to another’s identity.”

He also admits that doctor understand little about the difficulties patients go through and hence they must be affectionately accompanied in this hard journey.

After phase-

Cancer brought a huge shift into his carefully planned and hard-won future. In quest of unveiling the truth of death, he joined medical fraternity to become familiar with death (on work) but now death was paying a personal visit. It made him realize the value of “HIMSELF” or his authenticity.

“The man who loved hiking, camping and running, who expressed his love through gigantic hugs, who threw his giggling niece high in the air- that was a man I no longer was. As best, I could aim to be him again.”

The support of his family and wife proved that disease saved his marriage life. It is our near and dear ones whose support is required to keep the life on track. His departing lessons are more connected to spiritualism.

“Science may provide the most useful way to organize empirical, reproducible data, but its power to do so is predicated on its inability to grasp the most central aspects of human life: hope, fear, love, hate, beauty, envy, honor, weakness, striving, suffering, virtue.”

He says that science has its own power and limitations and to know ourselves better, we need to give a touch of spiritualism. And there are many ways to do that but I think love would grab the top seat.

Lessons for us

The best part of this book was the sincere honesty by which narration was done.

  1. Go for calling, not job –

He believed that putting lifestyle first is how we can find a job, not our calling. We should seek such a work in our life where we can feel that we are involved in some bigger purpose.

  1. Illness can bring you together, or it can tear you apart-

It is true that toughest of the times are there to check relationship strength. It is the care, love and understanding of two person which keeps them united in such hard times. We can find such gems rarely in our life but if we get one, we should preserve them with our utmost sincerity.

  1. Respect others’ perspective

We ignore the pain and effort other person is taking for us in our regular life and realize it once we step on their shoes.

  1. Survival in hard times lies in the simplest of things

He learns that trick to manage terminal illness lies in love, vulnerability, kindness, generosity and gratitude. Simple principle of life becomes the strongest pillars.

  1. Make yourself better each day

We may take musical lesson, online courses related to our field of work, read new books, travel to new places, try new dishes, make new friends, learn new skills and many more to make our self a better person. In his words-

“You can’t ever reach perfection, but you can believe in asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving.”

I would totally recommend this book who is going to kick-off his career or who is in confused state with career. We need to read it to understand ourselves by understanding the writer. We need to read it to know the value a Doctor brings in our life. In our country, doctors are not feeling safe and they are being tortured in many places. Instead of being grateful to them for their selfless service, we are just thinking our relationship with the doctor like a business. It is totally false.

Whenever I visit my doctor for a dental check-up (luckily my visit is limited to dental check-ups only), I get amazed with the level of dedication with which he treats me. Assessing my fear of dental equipment, he assures me that it is not painful. He may be lying but arrival of a big pain is rephrased by him as ‘light momentarily pain and just relax’. A pain in any tooth may cause our routine life a distressful one, but a few minutes of magical wand used by Doctors may return us to our happy life.

Thanks to all the Doctors who have treated me so far.

Thanks to all the Doctors who have never treated me so far and I wish I never need it too.

I give this book a rating of 8 out of 10.

Some beautiful quotes to conclude with-

“We are never so wise as when we live in the moment.”

“Even if you are perfect, the world isn’t.”


  1. Doctors are always punctual…
    They do not even have time to enjoy their vacation, even they celebrate their b’days with patients..not for his own happiness, but for his patient’s happiness too…they deserve respect.. Nice blog Vim..☺️

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Nicely documented Vimanyu..Doctor profession is driven by trust and faith shown by patients towards them.We should respect them.Also rightly said that keep improving oneself is vital to become a better person….And you are one of them getting better and setting examples for others.

    Liked by 1 person

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