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Mortality: A Memoir by Christopher Hitchens

Updated on October 21, 2016

In Christopher Hitchens memoir Mortality we learn a great deal about what is it like for someone to cope with being diagnosed with esophageal cancer. Hitchens discusses his denial with having the disease and how he hid it to avoid interfering with his work. Right from the beginning Hitchens does a spectacular job describing what he felt the night of his diagnosis. He woke up one morning feeling as if his chest had been filled with cement and every breath he made required all his strength. Every movement required intense thought and determination. The author also mentions his heartbeat begins to rise as if it were trying to catch up with the rest of his body. Hitchens’s memoir was intriguing to me as a nursing student. I felt it was beneficial to read his memoir because Hitchens offers insight into what it is like to be the patient. Hitchens’s comment on his perception of the protective gear worn by the medical personnel that brought him from “the country of the well across the stark frontier that marks off the land of malady.” Hitchens symbolic language helps enlighten the dark melancholy moments of being diagnosed with cancer. I also enjoyed reading about his experiences as an oncology patient and his description of the atmosphere of a healthcare setting. Hitchens describes his diagnosis as if he were traveling to a foreign country. In fact he is traveling to a foreign country, the land of the sick. Perhaps this is how Hitchens describes what it feels like to be diagnosed with cancer. If anyone has ever traveled and felt the familiar feeling of anxiety and uncertainty. He mentions his experiences as a journey and refers to hospital food as the worst cuisine. In another scene Hitchens depicts the greeting ritual in which an “official” greets him by digging their fingers into his neck. I found this interesting because as a nursing student we learn the importance of breaking the ice with a patient before touching them. Some healthcare workers often forget what it is like for a new patient to be in that element. Hitchens memoir allows one to experience life’s changes in an instant that are completely out of our control.

Hitchens discusses his complete denial of the existence of his condition in the early stages. He mentions his father was also diagnosed with esophageal cancer and died at the age of 79. Hitchens appears to use his father as a timeline for his own prognosis when he compares his age of diagnosis 61, to his father’s death at 79. In Hitchens memoir he appears, according to Kubler Ross stages of grief, in the bargaining stage. He claims he has earned the right to live a longer life and that he deserves to watch the “World Trade Center rise again.” As well as write about past villians of his time such as Henry Kissinger. Hitchens mocks himself in his self-pity and recognizes the irony of his current situation. Hitchens became an author on the bestseller list the day he was diagnosed with cancer. Alanis Morissette sings of the ironies that can occur in life such as “a traffic jam, when you’re already late”, but sometimes it is not quite so ironic after all. According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, ironic is defined as strange or funny because something (such as a situation) is different from what you expected. I feel that Hitchens subconsciously was aware of his condition and knowing his father’s history with esophageal cancer, his condition is not so ironic. Hitchens leaves his readers wanting more and provides us with his personal thoughts and feelings in one of the most difficult times in his life.


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