Friday, March 20, 2015

A dying doctor talks about life and meaning

Dr. Paul Kalanithi died recently after battling cancer.  He spoke of his experience as a patient, and a man dying, before the end.  Here's a brief excerpt.

Time for me is double-edged: Every day brings me further from the low of my last cancer relapse, but every day also brings me closer to the next cancer recurrence — and eventually, death. Perhaps later than I think, but certainly sooner than I desire. There are, I imagine, two responses to that realization. The most obvious might be an impulse to frantic activity: to “live life to its fullest,” to travel, to dine, to achieve a host of neglected ambitions. Part of the cruelty of cancer, though, is not only that it limits your time, it also limits your energy, vastly reducing the amount you can squeeze into a day. It is a tired hare who now races. But even if I had the energy, I prefer a more tortoiselike approach. I plod, I ponder, some days I simply persist.

Everyone succumbs to finitude. I suspect I am not the only one who reaches this pluperfect state. Most ambitions are either achieved or abandoned; either way, they belong to the past. The future, instead of the ladder toward the goals of life, flattens out into a perpetual present. Money, status, all the vanities the preacher of Ecclesiastes described, hold so little interest: a chasing after wind, indeed.

There's more at the link.

In this video clip, Dr. Kalanithi reflects on time and what it means.

May he rest in peace . . . and may the rest of us learn from his experience.



Brigid said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brigid said...

Sorry - shouldn't type after a 18 hour day. This moved me to tears last night and was shared on Facebook. Having faced death more than once, most pilots have, I look at my days much in this way, and am blessed to do so, knowing I should have another.

Anonymous said...

As a cancer survivor myself I completely understand his view of time. By the time I had gotten through it I had gotten extremely proficent at narrowing my focus to the here and now, minute by minute.

He is also correct in that one comes to the realization of the fact that so much of what we agonize over, plan for and hope for is not really important.

After it was reasonably certain I would survive it, thinking of and planning for the future was something I had to "re-learn".

Anonymous said...

Pretty sobering - thank you for linking to it. Very late last year, I had some serious health issues (heart valve surgery) which forced me to stay home for several weeks while I rested. His comments about having to slow down considerably was spot on - time reality really does change. Taking a shower took nearly half an hour, getting into a vehicle took minutes rather than seconds.

But I was (and am) getting better, his health was declining. THAT is far different so reading at least a part of his experiences of dealing with that has valuable insights. Thank you and him for that.