Do No Harm by Henry Marsh

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Henry Marsh is a doctor who writes interesting “Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery” (that’s the subtitle of this book).  I’ve always been interested in medicine, so I lap up books like this one.  I’m a fan of Jerome Groopman and Atul Gawande, for instance.  While it’s terrifying to know so much about what can go wrong, it also fascinates me.  The complexity of our bodies is astonishing!

Marsh also pulls no punches about his frustration with the bureaucracy in the NHS in England.  He is amazed at the tolerance of patients for it.  A waiting room full of people who are scheduled for neurosurgery are packed together in the morning, and they may or may not be operated on.  Nonetheless, they have to endure listening to the litany of the risks of the each person’s surgery as one by one they sign the consent forms.  Over and over:  “Death, permanent paralysis…”  Near the end of the book, Marsh is trying to get the computer system to bring up a brain scan as a patient and his family waits and waits.  He enters all of the various passwords he has for the many systems used in the hospital.  None will work.  He runs upstairs to the X-ray Dept.  “Use fuckoff45, that one works the best” he’s told.  Actually, it’s fuckoff47 that works, because passwords are required to be changed every month!

Marsh speaks honestly about doctor-patient relationships.  So complicated.  I enjoyed listening to this book.

9 comments on “Do No Harm by Henry Marsh”

  1. Teri, I share your fascination with the workings of the human body. I tend to gravitate toward books about the brain. Or anything by Dr Siddhartha Mukherjee. I am not familiar with the two authors you refer to but I love, especially, reading about brains that work differently. This sounds like an interesting read, to be sure.

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    1. Oh, yes, Mukherjee, too: The Emperor of All Maladies. I tried to get my favorite doctor to read it, but I don’t think she’ll have time until her kids grow up and she retires! Gawande and Groopman both have written for the New Yorker magazine. Gawande books I’ve read are Complications, Better, The Checklist Manifesto, and Being Mortal. That may be all of them. I would have wanted to be a doctor if I hadn’t had that gene of my father’s that made him faint at the sight of blood.

      And how could I have forgotten Oliver Sachs? Him, too.

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      1. Oh, yes to Oliver Sachs! He is a fave. And if you have not read Mukherjee’s The Gene : An Intimate History, do so now. This is what he talked about when I saw him speak and I was balancing on the edge of my seat. He is brilliant! And so passionate about his subjects.

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      1. Cool, Alison. A major teaching hospital in Dallas sends medical students to the art museum for a session in close looking. The purpose is to hone observational skills in a different setting. Is your goal knowledge alone? I’d love to be a fly-on-the-wall. I’ve been told I may sit in on a medical student session, and I plan to take that opportunity.

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  2. It sounds like the med. school in Dallas is very progressive. Give us a report if you sit in on a session! I’ve read “Being Mortal” by Gawande. It was very thought provoking. I’m currently in search of a doctor. I’d love to find someone who has Gawande’s philosophy about healing/aging.

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    1. I’ll try to remember to do that, Barbara! 🙂 I’m in the process of training my doctor to come around to my way of thinking about aging.

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