Thursday Book Feature: When Breath Becomes Air

When Breath Becomes Air

by Paul Kalanathi

Copyright 2016.

 

During the last year of his neurosurgical residency, Dr. Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. In this memoir, he shares his experiences in an attempt to help others. The book has a prolog, two parts, and an epilog.

In the prolog, Dr. Kalanathi shares how he and his wife Lucy learned of his diagnosis. In the first part, he talks about his life growing up in a small Arizona town, his interest in neuroscience, how he studied abroad before returning to the states and attending medical school at Yale.

In the second part, he shares his experiences as a neurosurgical resident at a San Francisco hospital, leading up to his diagnosis. He discusses his treatment and how he and Lucy conceived a child, despite his illness. He explains how he returned to his residency after treatment and completed it before he took a turn for the worst. He died before he could finish writing this book, so Lucy ties up loose ends in the epilog.

One thing I found disconcerting was the lack of dates. We know that Dr. Kalanathi died in March of 2015 and that he was diagnosed a couple of years earlier, but that’s it. I think it’s a good idea to insert dates throughout a memoir to orient the reader, and I do this in My Ideal Partner.

When Breath Becomes Air reminded me of when my mother was diagnosed with cancer in 1999. It was never known where the cancer originated. After six months of chemotherapy, she was given a good prognosis, but a couple of weeks later, she was gone. Dr. Kalanathi’s oncologist was reluctant at first to give him a prognosis. I can see why, I guess.

I liked Lucy’s description of her husband’s death in the epilog. He died in a hospital room, surrounded by his family, even his infant daughter. I felt guilty because my own husband died alone. Of course he wasn’t alert for the last few days of his life, and Dr. Kalanathi was, most of the time. Lucy’s concluding paragraphs emphasize something I’ve always believed. When you lose someone you love, you grieve, but where there’s love, even in death, life goes on.

 

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

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What is Nature?

the breeze cooling and caressing you,

trees with swaying branches,

flowers and their scents,

spongy grass under your feet,

what you see, hear, smell, taste, touch,

what keeps us alive.

***

This poem appears in the current issue of The Weekly Avocet. Click below to hear me read it.

 

 

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

Sunday Best: Lunch at the Senior Center

On Labor Day, I had lunch at the Sheridan Senior Center. The building was recently renovated. The lobby contains a lounge area and café where homemade soup, salad, sandwiches, and desserts can be purchased to take home during the week.

In the dining room, the food is now served on plates instead of the plastic trays they used in the past that reminded me of school cafeteria lunches. The tables now contain silverware, napkins, pitchers of water, and glasses. Before, you had to collect your silverware, napkin, and drink when you got your tray.

During the week, besides a main entre, there’s a soup and salad bar option. This wasn’t available on Monday because it was a holiday, so for lunch, I had a sloppy Joe, sweet potato fries, baked beans, apple sauce, and chocolate cake, which were all delicious. I’m looking forward to returning for lunch another day.

What’s the best thing that happened to you this past week? Please tell me about it in the comment field. I look forward to hearing from you and hope something good happens to you this coming week.

 

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

Saturday Song: I Want to Spend My Lifetime Loving You from The Mask of Zorro

Tomorrow, my late husband Bill and I would have been married eleven years. In 2005 after Bill proposed to me, while we were still living miles apart, he sent me a Valentine care package which included, among other things, a cassette tape of love songs he’d downloaded from the Internet. The song below was on that tape. Even now, it captivates me, and I’m amazed that a man wanted to spend his lifetime loving me. I still want to spend the rest of my life loving him.

 

 

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

Friday Happy Dance – Portugal the Man

Here’s a fun song to take our minds off all that is going on, including the devastation in Texas as a result of Hurricane Harvey and preparing for Hurricane Erma in Florida.

Rebirth of Lisa

This week’s dance is a fun song to take your mind off of all the things stressing you out, if only for a few minutes. Here’s Rich Friend by Portugal the Man.

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Thursday Book Feature: A Town Like Alice

A Town Like Alice

By Nevil Shute

Copyright 1950.

 

Jeanne, a young English woman, is taken prisoner by the Japanese in Malaya during World War II. She and other women and children are marched across Malaya from one village to another. One Japanese commander after another refuses to take responsibility for them and sends them on their way. This goes on for over six months. Under-nourished and receiving little medical attention, fraught with illness, half of them die but not Jeanne.

Along the way, the women are befriended by two Australian soldiers, also prisoners. One of them, Joe, steals several chickens from a nearby Japanese officer’s home in order to feed them. When the Japanese find out, they crucify him and force the women and children to watch, then move on.

Months later, in another village, with the Japanese guard escorting the women dead after an illness, they’re left to their own devices. They work in the village’s rice paddies to support themselves for the next three years until the war ends.

Years later, back in England, Jeanne receives a sizable inheritance from a deceased uncle. Armed with sufficient funds, she returns to the village in Malaya where she and the other women worked in the rice paddies. In gratitude to the villagers for supporting her and the other women during the war, she has a well built in the center of town to make life easier for the women of the village since there is no running water.

She then finds out that Joe survived his ordeal at the hands of the Japanese and travels to Australia to find him. Fate brings them together, and she starts a new life in the outback.

This story is told, in part, by the lawyer in England who manages the trust fund Jeanne’s uncle set up for her in the event of his death. The lawyer relates Jeanne’s story, as she tells it to him in person and through her letters.

In a way, this book reminded me of a memoir I read a couple of years ago. Unbroken is the story of Olympic track star Louis Zamperini’s life in a Japanese concentration camp during World War II. At one point while Jeanne and the other women are marching across Malaya under Japanese guard, she wonders if life would be better in a camp. If she knew what was happening to Zamperini, probably at about the same time…

At the end of the book, the author includes a note in which he explains that during World War II, the Japanese marched a group of women and children across Sumatra, not Malaya. Why, then, did he set that part of the story in Malaya? He should have explained his reason for re-inventing history. Otherwise, if I were Australian, and you were to ask me if this was a good book, I would say, “Oh my word!”

 

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

Jim, the Mischievous King

After reading the latest Chicken Soup for the Soul book, I was inspired to write my own canine tale. I doubt Chicken Soup for the Soul will publish any more dog books, since they already have two on the market, so I’ll post my dog story here.

***

In the spring of 1977 when I was a freshman in high school, and my younger brother Andy was in fourth grade, our family decided to get a dog. We were living in Sheridan, Wyoming. Before Andy was born, when we lived in Tucson, Arizona, we had a pooch that died as a result of Valley Fever, common in that part of the country. Despite the fact that we had two cats, my parents were now ready for another dog, and Andy and I liked the idea.

Mother found an advertisement in the newspaper announcing Irish setter puppies for sale. She called the woman who placed the ad and arranged for us to visit her and see the puppies.

The little dogs were in a box, and all except one were scratching and whining. The silent pooch sat in a corner, aloof. Mother said, “Oh, let’s see this little guy.”

She lifted him out of the box, and despite my limited vision, I could tell he had the sweetest face. He was red with floppy ears, which I immediately stroked and scratched, and he didn’t seem to mind.

“Let’s take him,” I said. The rest of the family agreed, and a week later, he was ours.

We debated what to call him. Dad, liking all things Irish, suggested Shem, the Irish name for Jim. Andy liked the name Clancy. Mother and I didn’t have a preference. We settled on Shem Shenanigan Clancy Leroy. Leroy was my grandfather’s name, and in Irish, it means king.

When we brought Clancy home, he was full of mischief and ruled his kingdom. When he wasn’t napping, he was running and playing with Andy inside the house and out, chewing on anything he could find, and antagonizing the cats. He eventually came to an understanding with our feline companions. Although they were never friends, they were civil toward one another.

In the summer, Mother enrolled Clancy in an obedience class for puppies. For Clancy, this was play time. At home alone, Mother was able to teach him to come, sit, and stay, but around the other dogs in the class, it was as if she hadn’t even tried to train him.

Andy tried training him with the girl next door, but that didn’t work, either. I suppose we could have hired a trainer like some of the authors in the Chicken Soup book did for their unruly dogs, but in the 1970’s, that wasn’t something to be considered.

Andy hoped that he and Clancy would be like Timmy and Lassie, but Clancy eventually became Dad’s dog, accompanying our father everywhere, even to the shop where he sold and serviced coin-operated machines. Clancy enjoyed riding in the back of Dad’s pick-up or in the station wagon with his head stuck out the window, eating air. This was before seat belt laws were enacted.

If Dad couldn’t take Clancy, he’d say, “not you.” With sad eyes, the dog would watch, as his master strode out the door. In Dad’s absence, Clancy would often follow Mother around, thinking she was responsible for Dad’s disappearance and that if he stayed by her side, she would magically make Dad appear.

Since the high school I attended wasn’t far from our home, Dad and Clancy often walked me there, through a park and up a hill. This was in the days before leash laws became more stringent, and Clancy ran free through the park, playing in a nearby creek while we walked. During the winter months, Dad drove me to school. At the top of the hill, where there wasn’t much traffic, he stopped and opened the rear passenger door, and Clancy jumped out and ran alongside the car the rest of the way.

Like any dog, Clancy enjoyed rolling in fish heads, cow pies, and anything else that stank. Andy tried hosing him off, but naturally, because the water was too cold, Clancy didn’t like that at all. Dad gave him a shower, which was a disaster, with water everywhere in the bathroom and Mother pissed. In those days, there was no such thing as a do-it-yourself dog wash, which is similar to a car wash and mentioned in the Chicken Soup book.

Despite his antics, Clancy was a lovable addition to our family for eleven years. He died suddenly in the summer of 1988, one of the hottest on record. By that time, my parents were separated, and Dad lived in a house halfway across town. I’d just completed a music therapy internship in Fargo, North Dakota, and was staying with Mother in our family home. Andy had graduated from high school two years earlier and was off somewhere for the summer.

One hot night, Dad let Clancy out so he could do his business, and the dog wandered off. He was found dead the next day by the creek near Grandma’s house. Here’s what I think happened.

Since Dad didn’t have air conditioning, Clancy was hot and wanted to get somewhere cooler. In gest, Dad always called him a dummy, but that dog had some smarts. For years, he’d been driven, along with the rest of the family, to Grandma’s house, which was air conditioned. He knew it was cooler, and he knew how to get there.

Unfortunately, Grandma was hard of hearing by that time. Upstairs in her bedroom, perhaps with the television on full blast, she didn’t hear Clancy scratching at either the front or back doors. When he couldn’t get into Grandma’s house, Clancy knew the next coolest place was the creek, so he went there. He no doubt passed as a result of heat stroke.

Dad said Clancy could have lived longer. Several years later after he moved to another house and acquired a second Irish setter, he bought a window air conditioner. That’s another story.

***

Why don’t you tell me about a pet you had when you were growing up? If you have a blog, you can post your story there and a link to it in the comment field here. If not, you can just share your memories. I look forward to hearing from you.

***

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.