When Breath Becomes Air

by

Paul Kalanithi

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When Breath Becomes Air Symbols

Scalpel

The scalpel—a small knife used in surgical operations—represents the double-edged sword of operations and medicine in general. In order for many of Paul’s patients to be treated or operated on, their bodies or their brains…

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Breath

In When Breath Becomes Air, breath stands in for life. The “breath” of the title is derived from the poem that becomes the memoir’s epigraph: “Caelia 83,” by Baron Brooke Fulke Greville. The poem reads…

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