Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery – Dr. Henry Marsh

Do you think you have a stressful job?  What if you were responsible to operate on one of the most intricate organs?  Would that cause pressure or would that excite you?  In ‘Do No Harm”, Dr. Henry Marsh takes his readers through the ups and downs of being a neurosurgeon.

Dr. Marsh divides his book into different operations he’s had to conduct on the brain.  While the content of the book could have been complex (I mean, operating on a brain is a complex matter), I never felt that I couldn’t understand what was going on or what the dangers to a particular procedure would be.  I really enjoyed how Dr. Marsh didn’t get too lost in the scientific world and made his stories understandable for the average reader.

The book reminded me a little of “When Breath Becomes Air” by Paul Kalanithi due to the content about literally having ones life in your hands and being looked upon as the subject matter expert on a matter of life and death.  Similar to Dr. Kalanithi, Dr. Marsh explores his journey to becoming a neurosurgeon by weaving and building upon stories of his patients.  To read that review, click here

Zi's Reads: Do No Harm by Henry Marsh

Zi’s Reads: Do No Harm by Henry Marsh

The title “Do No Harm” is a reflection of the oath a doctor takes to preserve the patient’s well-being at all times.  That’s a tough oath to live by when you’re often found making decisions about the journey forward in urgent situations where there may not be a lot of time to think.  Dr. Marsh mentions several times that while scans and testing can help guide a doctor’s decision of whether or not to operate, the doctor doesn’t fully know what they’re walking into until the operation is well underway (in this, once the brain is actually exposed!)  Wow – just let that sink in for a second.  You mean, a doctor will make the decision to cut open my head but not know for full certainty a) if the operation will be successful or b) what my overall outcome might be in terms of recovery?  As Dr. Marsh put it, he would obviously be the most experienced and have a greater understanding that the average person but so many things have a potential of going sideways during the operation.  You just have to trust the fact that the most experienced person is able to handle it to the best of their ability.

It’s not all success stories, as you can imagine.  In fact, one of the opening statements of the book was “Every surgeon carries within himself a small cemetery, where from time to time he goes to pray.”  When you think about it, it takes a strong person to be able to move on from a failure that resulted in the death of someone.  While never intentional, it’s a very real reality of the job.  When I read that passage, I think it just highlighted to me (and reminded me) that doctors are indeed human – their failures just have a greater personal impact to themselves and others.

I would really recommend this book – if not to appreciate the work that doctors do, then to gain a sense of learning what the wonders of science can do to extend our lives or improve the quality of it.


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