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2016 GIA Awards for Excellence

Robert G. Fenley Writing: Solicited Articles

"Before I Go"
By Paul Kalanithi
Stanford Medicine
Stanford School of Medicine

What was the subject of this piece?
How the author's perception of time changed as a surgeon-turned-patient facing a terminal diagnosis.

Judges said:
I was blown away by this simple, yet profound piece of writing. It tugged at my heartstrings and pulled me into the intimate thoughts of a man who is a surgeon, father, and patient. I think the editor was correct to leave the piece unaltered and facilitate the minimalistic photo shoot. It's very, very good- I can see why it was so well-received.

Where did it appear?
It was published in the spring 2015 issue of Stanford Medicine magazine.

What was the biggest challenge in writing about this topic?
Paul's wife, Lucy, said one big challenge for Paul was having the intellectual and emotional strength to face illness and mortality, and to work to translate the experience into words for the reader. And there was also the physical challenges of writing despite terminal cancer's toll on the body. (Paul died just after the piece was published.)

An excerpt:
I emerged from the hospital weakened, with thin limbs and thinned hair. Now unable to work, I was left at home to convalesce. Getting up from a chair or lifting a glass of water took concentration and effort. If time dilates when one moves at high speeds, does it contract when one moves barely at all? It must: The day shortened considerably. A full day’s activity might be a medical appointment, or a visit from a friend. The rest of the time was rest.

With little to distinguish one day from the next, time began to feel static. In English, we use the word time in different ways, “the time is 2:45” versus “I’m going through a tough time.” Time began to feel less like the ticking clock, and more like the state of being. Languor settled in. Focused in the OR, the position of the clock’s hands might seem arbitrary, but never meaningless. Now the time of day meant nothing, the day of the week scarcely more so.

Interested in Submitting Your Work?

You’ve spent the entire year creating innovative campaigns, writing articles, organizing alumni and community events, revamping your digital presence, and most importantly, demonstrating the value of your institution to your community.  Now is the time to show off your work and be recognized!

Learn more about the competition with the resources below: