Do No Harm – From My Bookshelf
I recently read an outstanding book called Do No Harm, by Henry Marsh. The New York Times and The New Yorker gave it solid reviews, which it deserves. It’s by an English neurosurgeon who chronicles his career experience, the highs and lows. I commend Dr. Marsh on his work. Many times I have struggled to articulate the trials and tribulations of learning to become and practicing as a neurosurgeon. As I read his book, I often thought to myself, “Wow, he really captures what I have been trying to share with loved ones and friends.” So now instead of struggling to find the right words, the right stories, I can offer a copy of Do No Harm.
This book is about medicine and humanity. It is a portal to the neurosurgeon’s experience. Here’s Dr. Marsh’s description of observing his first neurosurgery: “the operation involved the brain, the mysterious substrate of all thought and feeling, of all that was important in human life — a mystery, it seemed to me, as great as the stars at night and the universe around us. The operation was elegant, delicate, dangerous and full of profound meaning. What could be finer, I thought, than to be a neurosurgeon?”
He doesn’t sugarcoat what it is like to practice neurosurgery; he may experience great exhilaration at times, but he also feels equally deep guilt when through bad luck or a mistake, a patient becomes worse off after surgery, or dies.
Dr. Jerome Groopman, a professor of medicine at Harvard who is also a writer, reviewed Marsh’s book for The New York Times as well. As an American physician, he had a more nuanced take on some areas of Marsh’s book. One is the approach in the U.S. of empowering patients by providing lots of information that Marsh believes patients may not be able to process. As Marsh puts it, it is “…just like going to the supermarket and choosing from the vast array of toothbrushes on offer. The reality is very different. Patients are both terrified and ignorant. How are they to know whether the surgeon is competent or not? They will try to overcome their fear by investing the surgeon with superhuman abilities.” Somewhat paternalistic to our ears.
But as Groopman says, the reader can also sense that as March grows older, he also becomes more compassionate, more comforting. In fact, I bought 60 copies and gave one to all of my employees. My hope: that they would read it and better understand the doctors they work with and that it would also inspire them to be more caring and compassionate with patients.
I recommend this book to anyone interested in medicine or anyone who knows or interfaces with a neurosurgeon. You will definitely understand your acquaintance better after reading this book.
My rating: 5 brains