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When breath becomes air
  1. Gashirai K Mbizvo1,2,
  2. Danielle J Leighton1,3
  1. 1 Department of Clinical Neurosciences, Western General Hospital, Edinburgh, UK
  2. 2 The Muir Maxwell Epilepsy Centre and The Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK
  3. 3 The Euan MacDonald Centre for Motor Neurone Disease Research and The Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Gashirai K Mbizvo, Department of Clinical Neurosciences, Western General Hospital, Edinburgh, UK; gashirai.mbizvo{at}ed.ac.uk

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Edinburgh Neurology Book Club recently discussed When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi1 over an evening with dinner at a neurology consultant’s home. Paul was a gifted 36-year-old neurosurgeon in the USA. Diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in 2013, he died in 2015. His autobiography explores the themes of life and death.

The book opens with Paul hooked to an intravenous line in his own hospital, reviewing his CT images pre-consultation. They reveal that he is riddled with metastases. His wife Lucy lies by his side on the hospital bed as the reality of terminal cancer dawns on both. This is a moving scene that also evoked a practical lesson. Paul was provided freedom to review his CT because he was a doctor. We have all had experience of treating patients with medical backgrounds but agreed that illness makes people vulnerable, and we should manage colleagues as any other patient.

Paul had …

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    Phil E M Smith Geraint N Fuller