REVIEW: Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery

I cannot express how intriguing and how well written Henry Marsh’s autobiography, Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery is. Marsh plunges you into his life of neurosurgery and there is not a single instance of him ‘dumbing down’ the medical information, nor does he ever leave you clueless. He provides you with an incredibly candid account of his life both professionally and privately. He doesn’t portray himself, or other surgeons, as super humans with the ability to give and save lives.

Instead, the reader is hit with the harrowing mistakes and faults of neurosurgery. Marsh gives the impression that these terrible things, such as strokes, disabilities and death, do not come as a consequence from some operations. He also tells the reader of his own faults of anger and patience issues. What the reader is given is a highly truthful account where Henry Marsh is not perfect, nor is the world of brain surgery.

This book is extremely difficult to put down once started. It gives such an amazing insight into a world that most do not know about (although, I imagine even if you are a neurosurgeon, I am sure you will never have read such an honest account before!). The book follows the journey of Henry’s career, from his early medical student days to wisdom and experience. It is brimming with emotion and contains moments that may shake the squeamish. However, this is just part and parcel of keeping to the truth. The reader will not only sympathise and empathise with Marsh himself, but other doctors, members of the NHS and the patients (including their families). It is also an intellectual experience, the reader is exposed to words, phrases, treatments and Marsh is careful to ensure we always understand.

Whenever Marsh deviates from the stories of neurosurgery, the reader discovers insights into the man himself. The account about Marsh’s own surgery and injuries means that we see the doctor become the patient, and what that means in terms of how he grows as a doctor there after. Marsh’s tales of his time in Ukraine is one of the most interesting part of the book. The reader will be shocked to see how the medical world there differs from the U.K.; making the book such a thought-provoking read.

Essentially, Marsh is talking about courage and being brave; one must make mistakes to become an expert in something. This idea is wrapped within in emotional stories, thought-provoking ideals and medical knowledge. This is book is well worth your time, although, if you are extremely squeamish: proceed with caution!

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