When Breath Becomes Air


Paul Kalanithi

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Jeff Character Analysis

A general surgery resident at Stanford who is a few years senior to Paul. The two become friends as they work traumas together, creating inside jokes about patients’ prognoses. The two rely on each other for support when dealing with difficult and often tragic surgeries. Sadly, Jeff is unable to cope with the heartbreaking nature of the job, and after a patient dies from a particularly difficult complication, Jeff commits suicide.

Jeff Quotes in When Breath Becomes Air

The When Breath Becomes Air quotes below are all either spoken by Jeff or refer to Jeff. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Time Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of When Breath Becomes Air published in 2017.
Part 1 Quotes

When there’s no place for the scalpel, words are the surgeon’s only tool.

Related Characters: Paul Kalanithi (speaker), Jeff
Related Symbols: Scalpel
Page Number: 87
Explanation and Analysis:

Being with patients in these moments certainly had its emotional cost, but it also had its rewards. I don't think I ever spent a minute of any day wondering why I did this work, or whether it was worth it.

Related Characters: Paul Kalanithi (speaker), Jeff
Page Number: 97-98
Explanation and Analysis:

The secret is to know that the deck is stacked […] and yet still struggle to win for your patients. You can’t ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving.

Related Characters: Paul Kalanithi (speaker), Jeff
Page Number: 115
Explanation and Analysis:
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Jeff Character Timeline in When Breath Becomes Air

The timeline below shows where the character Jeff appears in When Breath Becomes Air. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1: In Perfect Health I Begin
Human Mortality, Strength, and Support Theme Icon
...He tries to keep lightness in his job when he bonds with a fellow resident, Jeff. One day Jeff asks Paul for his prognosis on a patient’s head trauma, and Paul... (full context)
Human Mortality, Strength, and Support Theme Icon
...price to empathy and bearing responsibility for patients. In his third year, he runs into Jeff, and they note each other’s sadness. Paul explains that a patient of his—a child shot... (full context)
Human Mortality, Strength, and Support Theme Icon
Paul receives a phone call from his friend and co-resident, Victoria. She tells him that Jeff committed suicide the night before. One of his patients died after experiencing a difficult complication,... (full context)
Human Mortality, Strength, and Support Theme Icon
Paul wishes that he could have spoken with Jeff and offered some comfort with what he had come to understand about being a doctor.... (full context)