Author: Paul Kalanithi
“Science may be the most effective way to organize empirical and reproducible data, but this power of its springs from the inability to grasp the fundamental aspects of human life: Hope, Fear, Love, Hate, Beauty, Envy, Honor, Weakness, Commitment, Suffering, Virtue”. Paul Kalanithi was a neurosurgeon who comes to these reflections, not because he distills the experience of his long clinical career, but because he had a recurrence of lung cancer, knew he had only a few months to live and had a chance to watch the movie of his life and his short profession in slow motion.
Paul Kalanithi, after graduating with a degree in history and philosophy of science, realized that he should become a doctor to delve into the intertwining of brain and consciousness. At the age of 36, at the end of his medical degree and the very hard years of specialization, he was ready to enter the academic career, but he discovered that he had advanced lung cancer: “At that point – he tells in the extraordinary book-human testimony – I had learned a couple of basic rules. First, detailed statistics are good for research classrooms, not hospital rooms.” It’s not enough to have a degree in philosophy and medicine to understand what matters, nor is it necessary to get sick and feel death approaching. It’s enough for doctors to get off their high horse, leave aside statistics and the ambition to impose the best treatment on patients, and learn to listen to the sick. Every patient knows what to expect from life, from treatment, from care; some want to undergo any treatment to live a few more days, some prefer to live out their last days in serenity surrounded by family members.
The Slow Medicine movement was born to help doctors reflect that respectful care is an added value to the care enshrined in the guidelines. By learning to listen we will become better doctors, because as Kalanithi says, “No system of thought can ever encapsulate the human experience in its entirety.” A moving testimony that helps us understand that death can also teach us how to live.
Book review wrote by Marco Bobbio