A Surgeon’s Life

Fascinating review by Joshua Rothman in The New Yorker of 18 May 2015 (Self is sooo behind in her reading!) of a memoir by London neurosurgeon Henry Marsh. It’s an unflinching look by Marsh at his medical career and the failures that haunt him (“It’s not the successes I remember, but the failures.”) Incredibly, so much of his success or failure depends on, not training, not intelligence, not skill, but luck.

Rothman compares a neurosurgeon’s life to a soldier’s. Both are “deeply shaped by” something called “moral luck.” To perform under the burden of this awareness is impossible unless Marsh can successfully control “his own emotions. If he can’t control how a surgery turns out, he will control how he feels. He tries not to let his feelings add to his patients’ fear and unhappiness; at the same time, he tries never to lie. He yearns for feelings that are strong but realistic, fully voiced but even-keeled.”

In writing his book, “Marsh has seemingly violated his code; he expresses many of the feelings that he’s worked very hard to keep hidden.”

Fascinating.

Marsh’s book is called Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery.

Subsequent research on Goodreads shows that it’s garnered a number of nominations and one prize: the J. R. Ackerley Prize for Autobiography.

Stay tuned.

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