Category Archives: medical

Admissions- Henry Marsh


Synopsis

The second of neurosurgeon Henry Marsh’s autobiographies follows him after retirement, with a look back to significant moments of his career, and his post-retirement trip to help a fellow neurosurgeon in Nepal.

 

Review

I was really looking forward to reading ‘Admissions’ as  ‘Do No Harm‘ was one of my favourite reads of 2017. I bought it just after Christmas and read it quite soon after. I must admit that although I did enjoy it I was a little disappointed, it just doesn’t meet up to ‘Do No Harm’.

It focused a lot more on Marsh’s personal life than ‘Do No Harm’ had. Whilst it was impressive to see what he was capable in other parts of his life (fitting windows, building rooms) I didn’t really care much about it.

I do think however his acquisition of the cottage as well as his trip to Nepal really said something about his character, and of the big change that retirement can be. Marsh seemed almost to fear having nothing to do. He spoke a lot of dementia, and I can imagine that for someone who really has relied on their brain, and who has seen what can happen when it goes wrong the thought that he could loose his own brain function would be especially scary.

I did enjoy the briefer steps into the medical. There were less descriptions of surgery than in the first book, although some may prefer that. We did however get to see more severe brain injuries during his time in Nepal, as the patients had to pay for treatment and had less access so were more likely to further progressed.

Partly because most of the medical sections were done in countries where languages other than English were spoken I felt that we got less of an insight into the patients. Sometimes we did get a little third-hand insight, but that was less detailed. In fact in Nepal Marsh tries to teach the doctors about the importance of seeing the patients as people, rather than something to be treated.

It was also interesting to see medicine in other cultures. I was particularly struck by how important being at home was for those in Nepal, to the point where families would use a hand breathing bag to take an ill person home to die which seems like amazing dedication, but  also seems somehow right.

There was less of his views of the NHS too, which made it somewhat less emotive. You could still get the sense that Marsh loves the NHS though, but hates what is happening to it. I don’t think that’s uncommon in the NHS community.

I think those who preferred the more personal bits of ‘Do No Harm’ will love this one, but as far as medical memoirs go it’s not the most medical. Still a very good overall memoir though

4/5

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Patient H.M- Luke Dittrich


Synopsis

In the 1930s Patient H.M was given a lobotomy by Dittrich’s grandfather William Beecher Scoville as a treatment for his debilitating epilepsy. This procedure led to damage to H.M’s memory which meant he could not form new memories. His case was important for the acquisition of knowledge about the brain and he spent the rest of his life being studied by scientists and doctors.

Review

Patient H.M isn’t really what I expected at all. It was about him to an extent, you heard a bit about what may have led to his epilepsy, and parts of his story post-surgery were described, but really it was about those who worked round him. mainly the surgeon who operated on him. For a pretty well known story it’s kind of nice to have a different approach, and there did seem to be some things uncovered. However to actually learn about H.M it might not be the best book.

It did at times get a bit confusing because of jumping between people and times, but once I got used to it I could generally work out what was going on.

It was a really interesting book, and it covers more than just H.M’s case where it comes to neuroscience. We learn a lot about the history of neuroscience and neuropsychology and neurosurgery. It’s probably good for people with less technical knowledge but an interest.

4/5

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Cancerland: A Memoir- David Scadden and Michael D’Antonio


Disclaimer: I was given a free copy of this book (via Netgalley) in return for an honest review

Synopsis 

From childhood David Scadden had experiences of cancer which led him to a career as an oncologist and researcher of cancer. This book is his account of his experiences.

Review

Well it seems appropriate that my first review after starting my nursing degree is a review of a medical book.

I’ve read plenty medical memoirs before, and I would say they are fast becoming a favourite genre for me. Cancerland though is a bit different from the others.

At the beginning Scadden said that one of his aims in writing his memoir was to increase peoples’ knowledge of cancer. His book certainly succeeded in this aim. I hadn’t realised quite how complex cancercare is, or how frustrating research can be- especially with the media shouting about ‘miracle cures’.

However it didn’t quite hold the personal element that I expect from these types of books. You read little about his patients or his family life, especially once he has become a doctor. That makes it somewhat harder to connect with. It was interesting seeing how he got into medicine however, and I did find it interesting on an intellectual level.

If it’s your first foray into medical memoirs I probably wouldn’t start with this one, but if you want to read more of them then this is a good one to go for for a wider experience.

3/5

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When Breath Becomes Air- Paul Kalaniti


Synopsis

Paul Kalaniti has been studying and working for ten years. His residency is almost over and he shows great promise as a future neurosurgeon.

Then Paul is diagnosed with incurable lung cancer, his future seems to be slipping away as he starts to loose his role as a doctor to become a patient.

Review

I mainly picked up this book because it seemed like it would be a medical memoir that saw things from two sides. To an extent it was that, but it was much more personal.

Kalaniti had always wanted to find some meaning in life, he started off studying literature; believing he could find something there, then he moved into medicine- maybe some practice involving life and death would give him that? Whether he gained more from medicine is somewhat unclear but it certainly seemed to be the right path for him, and his relationships with his patients in particular seemed to add something to his knowledge of what life was all about. But it was only when he was staring death in the face that Kalaniti found what was important to him.

In some ways it being both a doctor’s memoir and a patient’s memoir made it not quite an adequate version of either. I found the descriptions of his patients and surgery to be a bit lacking, and his own medical knowledge meant that his patient experience was not typical. That does not mean it was not a good memoir overall. It was interesting to see where Kalaniti the doctor and the patient overlapped, and the particular issues that came with knowledge.

There was also a sort of unfinished feel about it. Almost unedited. I wonder how much of that was due to the fact that Kalaniti died whilst writing it (something expected) and how much was to do with posthumous editing. The epilogue written by Kalaniti’s wife gave some closure, but it is real life, nothing should be a closed book. So it did mean that as a reader you came away with wanting more but in a way that was perfect for the book- it was like a sense of mourning.

I definitely recommend this book, just don’t expect an emotionally easy ride.

4/5

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Fragile Lives- Prof. Stephen Westaby


Synopsis

Stephen Westaby is a renowned NHS heart surgeon. His career has seen many advances in heart surgery and treatment, and lots of complicated and major operations.

 

Review

I have been wanting to read ‘Fragile Lives’ for a long time, especially after loving ‘Do No Harm‘, but I was a bit nervous so I didn’t read it as soon as I got it. Instead, completely by coincidence, I ended up reading it over the anniversary of my operation.

I’m still not entirely sure it was the best time to read it. It was kind of nerve racking at the time (but then again I did read ‘Do No Harm’ whilst in hospital, so you know, not the worst time!). In terms of heart surgery mine was one of the most simple surgeries you can get, I wasn’t even expecting it to be included with the book. It was in the book, but not until right near the end, and actually it was more complicated because the woman was pregnant. I couldn’t put the book down at that point, and it was scary, but actually in the end quite uplifting.

I found the different stories really interesting. I hadn’t realised quite how many advances had been made in heart care. The most amazing to me was a pump which could effectively replace the heart. It would keep blood flow going without a pulse and very little blood pressure, if you were to look at most heart monitoring machines you would think this person was dead. It really is amazing.

Despite surgeons being seen as unsympathetic and unemotional, and Westaby saying that being unemotional is important to be a good surgeon, he does come across as caring.

One thing though that came across was that some of the things Westaby was doing couldn’t really be afforded. Westaby seems angry about this, and it is a hard thing, because it would be impossible for the NHS to afford everything, and a balance is something very difficult to make. I talked about this on my instagram, and twitter, so rather than writing again I will just post it here.

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Westaby's frustration with the #NHS isn't as obvious as that shown in Marsh's book but the closer I get to the end the more I see it. It's a hard topic to talk about- how NHS funds should be spent. It seems a waste when a life could.be saved or improved but can't be because of money, and I'm not sure it could be fixed either. Privatisation wouldn't work either because then it would mean that there would be a second class who can't afford healthcare which they would have got for free on an NHS type system. When people's lives are at stake then it seems inhumane to leave decisions down to money, but there is really not alternative. NHS funding could be better, and maybe spent better too, but there will always be a point where something can't be afforded. I have said many times how much I value the NHS, without it I don't know where I would be… if I would be. I feel it's being let down, but I also realise it can never be perfect

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5/5

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