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A Beautiful Reflection on Time by a Dying Neurosurgeon

So, so moving…the words are poignant, with superabundance of wisdom permeating each and every word.  A must-read on death by a neurosurgeon who himself had come face-to-face with dying patients in the course of his career, and had faced death himself.

A Dying Neurosurgeon’s Exquisite Message To His Daughter

Posted: 03/20/2015 12:53 pm EDT Updated: 03/20/2015 5:59 pm EDT

Editor’s note: This piece was originally published in Stanford Medicine magazine on February 23, 2015; Paul Kalanithi passed away on March 9, at age 37. Read Stanford Medicine’s obituary for him here.

By Paul Kalanithi

In residency, there’s a saying: The days are long, but the years are short. In neurosurgical training, the day usually began a little before 6 a.m., and lasted until the operating was done, which depended, in part, on how quick you were in the OR.

A resident’s surgical skill is judged by his technique and his speed. You can’t be sloppy and you can’t be slow. From your first wound closure onward, spend too much time being precise and the scrub tech will announce, “Looks like we’ve got a plastic surgeon on our hands!” Or say: “I get your strategy — by the time you finish sewing the top half of the wound, the bottom will have healed on its own. Half the work — smart!” A chief resident will advise a junior: “Learn to be fast now — you can learn to be good later.” Everyone’s eyes are always on the clock. For the patient’s sake: How long has the patient been under anesthesia? During long procedures, nerves can get damaged, muscles can break down, even causing kidney failure. For everyone else’s sake: What time are we getting out of here tonight?

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