The first principle of medicine is explored in great detail throughout Henry Marsh’s aptly titled ‘Do No Harm’. The book is a total exploration of the strange relationship between doctor and patient, as Marsh puts it brilliantly, ‘One is facing life’s most difficult times, for the other, the patient is one of ten in today’s outpatient clinic’.
The book is a brilliant account of Marsh’s career as one of Britain’s leading neurosurgeons, each chapter is named after an tumor or a disorder of the brain, from Choroid Plexus Papilloma to Aneurysm. Following a brief synopsis of the medical term that titles each chapter, Henry goes on to recount his experiences as a surgeon through his many years of surgery while also recounting the stories of individual patients themselves (whose identities are changed). We follow his success stories with awe while struggling to comprehend his ability to go on following troubling cases. As patients it seems we often don’t ask about the true extent of the risks, never daring to ask the surgeon “What would you do if it were you, or your family?”.
Do No Harm deals with the balance between technical surgery and decision making. Through Marsh’s moral dilemmas throughout and his experience operating on tens of thousands of patients, we are forced to consider the balance between compassion and detachment, something a neurosurgeon must consider on a daily basis. What we perhaps forget the individual behind our unique operation and each situation’s unique set of circumstances. Do No Harm forces us to accept that things don’t always go to plan, human errors are made and sometimes patients don’t recover quite how we think they will.
Although tears will likely be shed on the pages, this book is an incredible celebration of the magic that neurosurgeons are able to perform, a celebration of life itself and the intense skills of the hand and the mind.
For a brilliant interview with Henry Marsh on BBC’s Hardtalk program, watch this clip here.
The brilliantly curated tone, bang-on insights and recognisable (to runners) London footage makes this timeless ad no less shiver inducing than it was last year when we celebrated Paula’s final London Marathon.
If you’re anything like as sad as me you might be able to chapter sections of your life defined by which trainers you were wearing to run in at the time, yep I’m being serious! I mean things like where you ran, PBs you set, people you met while out running or set off with, whether you learnt anything new or listened to a particularly great playlist. The more memories and experiences we share with an object will influence how we see and value them as products.
This concept isn’t limited to trainers of course but I think they’re a great example of how our emotions are so closely linked to memories shared with the things around us. Experiences ultimately share how we interact with brands and as people how we talk about object and influence them in turn.
Products are ultimately souvenirs of a collection of stories or a culture that we’re part of. The stronger the story, the stronger the connection. It’s human nature that we seek connections to cultures, they bring us closer to other people, to ourselves, and make us feel connected to something bigger.
I heard about a project a little while ago called HistoryTag which made great use of this concept, the idea is that every product is assigned a unique ID number, when the buyer purchases, they code the number into the website and they’ll see a collection of footage of their unique thing being assembled. Perhaps its pictures of where it was made & by who, songs that played as a zip was being sewn in, etc. Or it might just be a blank slate ready for the new user to add all their own footage to start a scrapbook like collection of all the best days, worst days, memories and achievements they have made with that product. Imagine if you picked up a pair of jeans from Oxfam and were able to access all the stories that those jeans had lived out before you picked them up, then you add more yourself.. essentially products and objects grow their own set of stories which are unique to them and the value over time shifts.
HistoryTag is just one wonderful idea, but I think much more can be done too.
These are my old trainers, they’ve ran over 350 miles, in 9 different countries & with 4 different running clubs, it’s safe to say they are full of memories. My new pair are a blank canvas right now, but not for long..
Change can be stressful and unsettling, but it’s essential if we want to grow as people and let our experiences educate and shape our future beings. I love this analogy by Rabbi Abraham Twerski as he so succinctly compares the natural changes the humble lobster has to contend with in life. Change may be stressful, but having made change, our bodies are full of a new space in which to fill up with knowledge, experience, memory and power.