Henry Marsh is a renowned brain surgeon working in the NHS in the UK. In ‘Do No Harm’ he gives an account of his life as a brain surgeon. He speaks of how the NHS has changed over the years, his victories and his failures, and the effects these things have had on his life.
I found out about ‘Do No Harm’ first through Ellie’s blog, and I added it to my wishlist instantly, since that time I heard lots of great things about it, but it was only when it came up on the kindle monthly deals that I actually bought it, in some ways I’m glad I waited, in others I wish I’d gotten to it sooner.
I actually ended up reading it when I was in hospital for my own operation (because apparently I’m insane) I think that I could read about operations at the time without getting freaked out shows just how interested I was. Having said that I wouldn’t say it’s a good book for the faint hearted, there are some rather graphic descriptions of operations- although personally I felt Marsh’s sense of control and anxiety more than I felt squeamish.
You did get a sense of Marsh caring about his patients, he spoke about how he had caused the death, or lack of life, in some patients and how you had to lock that knowledge away because otherwise you would just give up, but that didn’t stop you from feeling guilty. When you do operations which do have such a high level of risk then there are bound to be times that it doesn’t go to plan, and Marsh has probably saved more lives than he has ended, he has a strange mix of guilt for these cases and the stereotypical surgeon arrogance. It made me start to think of that arrogance as a sort of defense mechanism- like a surgeon needs that arrogance otherwise they will always be terrified of what failure will cause, they have to believe things will go right to be able to take that risk.
Another interesting thing was how Marsh talked about how the NHS has changed, and, as he sees it, has become less effective. He wrote of how things were held back by too much paperwork, and bureaucracy, and computers that didn’t work. At one point he is trying to get some x-ray results, but he doesn’t seem to be able to see them on his computer so he goes to the x-ray department, who only seem to be able to see them with one person’s log in. The computers are meant to make things easier but Marsh says if they had the old x-ray films he could have just picked it up and looked in a few seconds instead of trying for a long time to see them on the computer.
This is particularly poignant now because the NHS has been getting lots of cuts, and sold off to private companies, both things which makes it harder for frontline staff to do their jobs. We are very lucky in this country. Our NHS is (generally) free. Anyone can access healthcare. Without the NHS some of Marsh’s patients wouldn’t have been able to afford their operations. It seems crazy that people think the NHS should be scrapped. No it’s not perfect, but the thought of it going away terrifies me, and that seems to be what our current government is working towards. We have a nursing shortage but for some reason the government decided that they would stop the nursing bursary, and we have lots of foreign nurses which we may no longer have with Brexit, and lots of nurses are leaving because their pay has been frozen, they’re having to do more hours, and the paperwork side of things has increased so much that they feel they can’t give time to patients.
Okay end of political rant.
I really found this book interesting and Marsh’s style of writing made it easy to read as well rather than clinical and dry. Now I just have to decide whether to buy a similar book about heart surgery next or Marsh’s second memoir…any recommendations?
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