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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 …
Acknowledgements The authors acknowledge contribution from Richard Davenport, Peter Fernandes, Ingrid Hoeritzauer, Graeme Mackenzie, Fiona Moreton, Timothy Soane, Briony Waddell, Tim Wilkinson and Charis Wong.
Contributors GKM and DJL contributed equally to this work and are joint first authors. Both made substantial contributions to the conception of the work, drafting the work and revising it, and made final approval of the version to be published. Both are in agreement to be accountable for all aspects of the work. A group of neurology registrars and a consultant from Western General Hospital in Edinburgh discussed the book and gave input into the drafting of the manuscript.
Competing interests None declared.