"In whatever kind of a 'race' life may be, I have very abruptly become a finalist," says Christopher Hitchens in Vanity Fair. In June, the author and columnist was on top of the world. He had just launched his latest book, Hitch-22, an instant best-seller. He was in a New York hotel, preparing to joke around with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, and chat with Salman Rushdie in a sold-out appearance at the 92th Street Y. Then, suddenly, he couldn't breathe. After visiting the hospital, he learned he had cancer of the esophagus. Here, an excerpt:

I have more than once in my time woken up feeling like death. But nothing prepared me for the early morning last June when I came to consciousness feeling as if I were actually shackled to my own corpse. The whole cave of my chest and thorax seemed to have been hollowed out and then refilled with slow-drying cement. I could faintly hear myself breathe but could not manage to inflate my lungs. My heart was beating either much too much or much too little. Any movement, however slight, required forethought and planning. It took strenuous effort for me to cross the room of my New York hotel and summon the emergency services.

They arrived with great dispatch and behaved with immense courtesy and professionalism. I had the time to wonder why they needed so many boots and helmets and so much heavy backup equipment, but now that I view the scene in retrospect I see it as a very gentle and firm deportation, taking me from the country of the well across the stark frontier that marks off the land of malady.

Read the full article at Vanity Fair.