In his short lifetime, Paul Kalanithi earned a BA and an MA in English literature from Stanford; an MPhil in history and philosophy of science and medicine from Cambridge; and an MD from Yale School of Medicine. At Stanford, he was finishing up his residency in neurosurgery and neuroscience, when he learned he was dying. He was 36.
When I was 13, I was kicked in the solar plexus during karate class. The sensei came over to me and explained to me that I had "gotten the wind knocked out of me." And he was right. Quite literally, in fact. I couldn't breathe. Hearing that your son has a brain tumor knocks the wind out of you in a completely different way.
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I gathered that fact from a fascinating story in the August Esquire by Luke Dittrich, in which Dittrich comes as close as one could, without access to Alexander's private thoughts, to showing that the book was a cynical effort to provide a new career for a neurosurgeon whose career was being consumed by malpractice suits.