REVIEW: Admissions by Henry Marsh
Henry Marsh has spent a lifetime operating on the surgical frontline. There have been exhilarating highs and devastating lows, but his love for the practice of neurosurgery has never wavered.
Following the publication of his celebrated New York Times bestseller Do No Harm, Marsh retired from his full-time job in England to work pro bono in Ukraine and Nepal. In Admissions he describes the difficulties of working in these troubled, impoverished countries and the further insights it has given him into the practice of medicine.
Marsh also faces up to the burden of responsibility that can come with trying to reduce human suffering. Unearthing memories of his early days as a medical student, and the experiences that shaped him as a young surgeon, he explores the difficulties of a profession that deals in probabilities rather than certainties, and where the overwhelming urge to prolong life can come at a tragic cost for patients and those who love them.
Reflecting on what forty years of handling the human brain has taught him, Marsh finds a different purpose in life as he approaches the end of his professional career and a fresh understanding of what matters to us all in the end.
When I saw this book offered for review, I knew I wanted to read it for a number of reasons. Firstly, I’ve always been fascinated by neurosurgery after reading a long ago article in Reader’s Digest about a young neurosurgeon in training. The hours and training sounded brutal yet he and his fellow residents seemed unable to keep from spending their time in yet another OR operating on someone’s brain often to the detriment of their private lives. Then I recently read “When Breath Becomes Air” which introduced the element of the neurosurgeon faced with his own death and how he viewed his life and impending end. “Admissions” added the element of retirement to all that. As someone peering into the future of my own, I’ve begun feeling out what I might want to do and how to prepare for this.
At times “Admissions” is brutally honest. At others it is heartfelt and touched with wry humor. It truly is one doctor’s admissions of his mistakes (sometimes death isn’t the worst that can happen) as well as his successes. Marsh discusses his admissions (truths) about his admissions (patients). His viewpoints have been honed by a lifetime of experiences – some good and others bad for various reasons. No doubt many will disagree with something he has to say whether about surgery – to preform it or not, death – to allow it or fight to the end to put it off, medicine in third world countries – basically it sucks for the most part, medicine in first world countries – expensive at times, pointless at others and increasingly wasteful as managers take over directing health care in place of the doctors, nurses and other staff who are actually on the front lines with the patients, or retirement – what are you going to do with your newly freed from work hours.
But there is beauty here too in countries few of us will ever see as well as a charming old canal cottage Marsh begins to restore and bring back to life. The very fact that he is as candid about his faults as he is leads me to trust more what he says. I’m not sure I could be this truthful even to myself much less to a world wide audience. After finishing this book, I know I want to go back and try “Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery“. B