I've recently joined a book club and got to make the first selection, which was this memoir that has been on my to-read list for a while. It's a well written, thoughtful account of a man who spent the majority of his life trying to understand life and death through his love for words and his passion for neurology.
Paul takes the reader on an emotional journey of unfulfilled dreams, acceptance, and understanding.
By the end of it, I felt I had this new insight into the perspective of the individual behind the white coat - who often sees us at our most vulnerable - into the gap between science (predictable) and basic human emotions (unpredictable) and knowing what sort of life is worth living and coming to terms with that which will never be....a powerful read that I highly recommend.
A few of my favourite quotes:
“Human knowledge is never contained in one person. It grows from the relationships we create between each other and the world, and still it is never complete.”
“There is a moment, a cusp, when the sum of gathered experience is worn down by the details of living. We are never so wise as when we live in this moment.”
“Don’t think I ever spent a minute of any day wondering why I did this work, or whether it was worth it. The call to protect life—and not merely life but another’s identity; it is perhaps not too much to say another’s soul—was obvious in its sacredness. Before operating on a patient’s brain, I realized, I must first understand his mind: his identity, his values, what makes his life worth living, and what devastation makes it reasonable to let that life end. The cost of my dedication to succeed was high, and the ineluctable failures brought me nearly unbearable guilt. Those burdens are what make medicine holy and wholly impossible: in taking up another’s cross, one must sometimes get crushed by the weight.”
“The tricky part of illness is that, as you go through it, your values are constantly changing. You try to figure out what matters to you, and then you keep figuring it out. It felt like someone had taken away my credit card and I was having to learn how to budget. You may decide you want to spend your time working as a neurosurgeon, but two months later, you may feel differently. Two months after that, you may want to learn to play the saxophone or devote yourself to the church. Death may be a one-time event, but living with terminal illness is a process.”
“The main message of Jesus, I believed, is that mercy trumps justice every time.”