This book is well written, gripping, and fascinating. Sometimes it is sad or gruesome. It is accurate in the descriptions of medical details, surgical procedures, and the life of brain surgeons. If you like to think of your physician as a demi-god you should not read this book. If you can handle the truth, read on.
As an anesthesiologist, I read with a mix of amusement and rueful resignation. Dr. Marsh is a true representative of his species, the neurosurgeon. They are by turns kind, irritating, cocky, courageous, arrogant, brilliant, obsessive, awe-inspiring, and lonely. They usually graduated at the top of their medical school class. Their residency did not end until they were well into their 30’s. Many hospitals have lots of pediatricians, intensivists, internists, and hospitalists, but they only have one neurosurgeon. Even in a field of doctors, a collection of brainy nerds, they stand alone.
Their arrogance is undeniable. Henry Marsh relates how he was stuck in a line of shoppers at the grocery store and thinks with irritation that none of them could do what he just did today, so why does he have to wait behind them? Like fighter pilots or Special Forces, society is not comfortable with such people, but when we need them, we need them desperately. And we always need them.
There is a moment before every invasive medical procedure when you could pause and contemplate the enormous consequences of failure. If you spend too much time doing that, you will end up paralyzed, and the patient will suffer. If you spend too much time thinking about the appalling human carnage that will result from surgery gone wrong, you will never take up the knife. No matter how skillful, knowledgeable, and careful you are, there will be carnage. No one knows this better than the neurosurgeon. To cut into a human brain takes enormous hubris. Every procedure includes the risk of death, but there are worse things than death. Most doctors will see worse-than-death only rarely during their career, but the neurosurgeon sees it often. It is the nature of their specialty. It is beyond extreme. For example, I induce a death-like coma in my patients daily, then rescue them from it. Yet I could not abide such a life of enormous risk.
Dr. Marsh is a writer of depth and skill. He probably does everything well, if he does it at all. If you think that neurosurgery is fascinating, you should read this book.