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In When Breath Becomes Air, neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi tells the story of a patient who insisted on having a brain tumor removed against the advice of his surgeons.

The tumor was situated in a critical speech center in the brain. Excising it was likely to render the patient speechless for life.

Kalanithi was about to ask the attending physician why the surgery was proceeding when he received his answer. He met the patient.

The man dished out a “litany of profanity and exhortation” demanding that the doctors get “this thing out of my [expletive deleted] brain” (111).

At the operation’s conclusion, Kalanithi had a new question:”How was he still talking?”

He surmised that profanity “supposedly ran on a slightly different circuit from the rest of language. Perhaps the tumor had caused his brain to rewire somehow” (112). Continue Reading…

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