Noted British neurosurgeon Dr. Henry Marsh offers readers insights into the world of neurosurgery, illustrated with stories of both his triumphs and his failures. Each chapter focuses on a different disorder or injury to the brain, and while Dr. Marsh doesn't shy away from technical terms, his conversational writing style ensures that readers will not find themselves lost. Entwined with the case studies are anecdotes about the frustrations Dr. Marsh and his colleagues face with the National Health Service and musings on the way his dedication to his career and his patients affected his personal life. Dr. Marsh offers keen insights into the stresses of being a doctor, opening a window into a part of medicine most patients don't often get to see. He talks about the struggle to dehumanize patients in the operating room with its "controlled and altruistic violence" so emotions don't cloud a surgeon's judgment, something Marsh says is not easily done. He also details the grief and agony a surgeon feels after a mistake or a poor outcome, in some instances in the book even urging the patients' families to sue him for compensation, taking the reader through several of those painful meetings.
Do No Harm is surprising in its stark honesty. Dr. Marsh is human, and he isn't afraid to buck the detached neurosurgeon stereotype and admit it. In a profession where many are noted for huge egos and elitist attitudes, Dr. Marsh's glimpses into his long career seem almost confessional in nature. While a few things, like Dr. Marsh's humanitarian work in the Ukraine and the stress his career put on his marriages, are threaded throughout the book, most of the chapters are fairly self-contained. There's a satisfaction in reading about a case from beginning to end with Dr. Marsh's observations and the lessons he took from it, all tied up neatly in one small chapter. Do No Harm is a riveting read for those interested in neurosurgery and the surgical horror stories and successes that entails, but it also delivers some poignant reflections on the notable career those surgeries shaped.
Reviewed by ba, 7/15. Other reviews by ba.