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

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Anthology Depicts Disability Culture

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Dozen: The Best of Breath and Shadow

Edited by Chris Kuell

Copyright 2016

 

Breath and Shadow is an online magazine featuring poems, stories, and essays by authors with disabilities. Pieces here focus mainly on what it’s like to have a disability and how others treat a person with a disability. This anthology showcases the best work that appeared in the publication over the past twelve years.

It contains dark pieces such as Susan M. Silver’s short story, “I’ll Be Looking at the Moon,” in which the protagonist is dealing with a serious illness. In contrast, there’s Amy Krout-Horn’s essay, “Who Dresses You?” in which she talks about a humorous way she answered this narrow-minded question from a waitress.

Many pieces portray the relationship between a person with a disability and health care professionals such as Lizz Schumer’s essay, “Peace Protest,” in which she talks about convalescing after a fall and wondering if she inherited her grandfather’s brain cancer. Then there’s Chris Kuell’s short story, “The Interview,” in which a blind woman retaliates against a prospective employer who is unwilling to even consider the possibility of hiring her.

I would like to have seen fewer dark pieces. Nevertheless, I think this is a must-read for everyone, especially those in a profession that requires dealing directly with others: waitresses, doctors, nurses, cab drivers, etc. You don’t have to read the whole thing cover to cover. You could read perhaps one or two pieces a day. If you’re one of those narrow-minded persons who take a dim view of what people with disabilities can do, this anthology will force you to think outside the box. If you’re a person with a disability, you’ll read this and realize you’re not the only one. The people in this book, whether real or made-up, will speak to you of their experiences.

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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

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Review: Tuesdays with Morrie

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Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man, and Life’s Greatest Lesson

by Mitch Albom

Copyright 1997

 

Years after graduating from college, sports writer Mitch Albom reconnected with Morrie, his former psychology professor, who was diagnosed with a terminal illness. He describes how he and Morrie spent the last few months of the old man’s life together. His visits were considered his last class with the professor. The only course requirements were to adjust the old man’s pillows from time to time and do other personal care tasks. Graduation was the professor’s funeral, and the final paper was this memoir. The author also describes his life during and after college and gives some biographical information about Morrie.

This book was featured not too long ago on BookDaily. I found it depressing, but what could I have expected from a book about a young man learning lessons about life and death from a dying one? In a way, Morrie reminded me of Bill, although Bill wasn’t terminally ill. Morrie always talked about his death. The only time Bill even touched on the subject of his demise was when he planned his own funeral.

Morrie said something that struck me as interesting. When you depend on others for everything, even wiping your bottom, it’s like being a baby again. You enjoy being cared for the way your mother took care of you in your infancy.

Bill often laughed when I cleaned him up after a bowel movement or inserted a suppository. At first, I thought he was embarrassed, but now I realize he was enjoying the physical attention. That was why he often asked me to scratch his back or perform other physical ministrations he couldn’t do himself. He was craving the attention his mother gave him because it provided comfort. Realizing that probably wouldn’t have made dropping everything and performing these tasks any easier. To learn more about his experiences in being a baby again and my caregiving adventures, check out My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds.

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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.

Visit My Facebook Page.

 

Review: A Girl’s Guide to Moving On

A Girl’s Guide to Moving On

By Debbie Macomber

Copyright 2016.

 

Leanne and her daughter-in-law, Nichole, divorce their cheating husbands and move from a suburb to separate apartments in downtown Portland, Oregon. Both ex-husbands try to convince their wives to return to them, but Nichole and Leanne have had it. Nichole meets Rocco, a tow-truck driver, who pulls her car out of a ditch. Leanne meets Nicholai, a Ukrainian student in an English class she teaches at the community center. Things heat up when Leanne’s ex-husband is diagnosed with terminal cancer and Nichole’s ex-husband threatens to file for full custody of their three-year-old son, claiming that Rocco is a negative influence.

This is another of many books I’ve enjoyed from Audible. The two narrators who read alternating chapters from Leanne’s and Nichole’s points of view do an excellent job. Debbie Macomber’s reading of her introductory letter at the beginning of the book adds a nice touch.

My favorite scene was at the beginning of the book when Nichole, after finding out that her ex-husband has finally decided to sign the divorce papers, backs her car into a ditch, and Rocco, the tow-truck driver with whom she falls in love, eventually comes to her rescue. The most memorable character, I think, is Nichole’s three-year-old son, Owen. His resilience in the face of his parents’ divorce is inspiring, and his interest in tow-trucks after meeting Rocco is amusing. This book delivers a powerful, yet uplifting message about forgiveness. I recommend it to everyone and hope those in Leanne and Nichole’s situation can learn to let go of the past and move on.

Reading this book helped me put my life in perspective, especially at the end when Leanne cares for her dying ex-husband. At least my late husband Bill didn’t cheat on me so caring for him after he suffered his first stroke that confined him to a wheelchair was a no-brainer. I did this for six years, and my caregiving experiences are detailed in my new memoir, My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds, which can be purchased online from Amazon, Createspace, and Smashwords in paperback and various eBook formats.

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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