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.
And to see the full documentary The English Surgeon, follow this link.