A wonderful book. Henry Marsh is an accomplished English neurosurgeon, with around 65 years old, that decided to share a bit about his work and his life. In Do No Harm he tells us the victories and defeats of the profession and the field. Marsh is incredibly honest in the book, and writes amazingly well. I enjoyed the book so much, I was actually sad when I finished it.
Neurosurgeons are complicated and interesting people. They wouldn´t be neurosurgeons otherwise. The decisions they face daily, the routine, the responsibility, the risks… these are all burdens that can elevate or despair a doctor throughout their careers. All these facets of a neurosurgeon are so well explained in the book, with page-turning language, that you just can´t ignore the feeling of awe towards neurosurgery and those who practice it.
To start, Marsh is not afraid to remember his mistakes. And for this, I applaud him, because it´s from past mistakes that we can learn the most valuable lessons for the future. If you decide to enter the neurosurgery field, you will either make awful and horrible errors, or you won´t become a surgeon after all. Surgery of the brain is not a simple task, and after opening up someone´s head, it´s impossible to predict what will happen next. As Marsh says in his book, it’s almost like entering a battle. A battle that you are alone, the risks are high and mistakes happen, but you gotta keep going nonetheless.
For example, Marsh tells us a time he let his junior operate, who consequentially screwed up, causing the paralysis of the patient´s ankle. Or how he left a patient blind by error in a supposedly very simple surgery. It takes guts to admit those failures, but that´s the reason the book is worth a while. People make mistakes: businessmen choose wrong partners, merchants pick the wrong product, real estate developers develop projects on the wrong location, and the list goes on. The point is, no matter how good or skillful we might be, we are all fallible. And the same goes for surgeons, especially the neuro ones.
Besides the honesty and the bold truth in the book, Marsh also discusses the unusual and hard decisions a surgeon has to make on a day to day basis. For instance, is it better to operate an 85 year old woman with a brain tumor and risk vegetative state for years to come, or let her die peacefully and actively for the remaining six months of her life? These are common questions in a doctor´s routine, but they force us to realize that medicine is not only about science.
In addition, I really enjoy the nitty gritty of each surgery he describes. I’m a layman on the subject, but it´s incredible to learn, or at least to grasp the idea, of how someone opens up a person´s skull, gets inside his brain, and clamps a vein to stop a hemorrhage, or removes a tumor with a microscope. Personally, I find it amazing the human race is able to do that. And I also think it´s amazing there is someone willing to take that risk and actually do it. Marsh, moreover, constantly mentions how incredible our brains, which made out of matter alone, are able to generate the most complex ideas and feelings. This concept is something that humbles even the most accomplished of men. Our body is a miracle, and Marsh openly acknowledges so.
There are a couple of occurrences in the book where the author sounds cocky or obnoxious. I actually read many reviews complaining about that. But c´mon people, let him be. After such experiences and deeds, and after writing such a wonderful book, you gotta give the guy a break.
I can only thank Dr. Marsh for all he has done, and for candidly sharing his experiences and thoughts with us.