Guardian first book award: the shortlist

Guardian, 15 November 2014

‘I try, in Do No Harm, to show what it is really like to be a brain surgeon … Alas, we are just as liable to make mistakes, but it is extraordinarily painful and difficult to admit to our own fallibility and to deal with its sometimes awful consequences.’

One of the five shortlisted authors for the Guardian first book award, Henry talks about how Do No Harm came to be written, and features an extract from the book.

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A doctor’s story: what his son’s illness taught him

Telegraph, 15 November 2014

‘Older doctors – and I am now an older doctor – often comment that they did not really understand what their patients and their relatives were going through until they themselves, or members of their family, became patients. I had this experience right at the beginning of my career.’

Henry writes about the experience of his son’s brain tumour, and how it may have influenced the trajectory of his medical career.

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Review: Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

Being Mortal: Illness, Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande
New Statesman, 23 October 2014

‘Towards the end of Being Mortal, the author describes the satisfaction of helping one of his patients to a good death rather than inflicting what doctors call “aggressive” treatment, with only a small chance of significantly prolonging the patient’s life. Most surgeons, as they get older, learn that knowing when not to operate is just as important as knowing how to operate, and is a more difficult skill to acquire.’

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The Big Question: What’s the best escape?

Intelligent Life, November/December 2014

One of six writers including Anne Enright, Alan Johnson and Arianna Huffington, Henry gives his view on what the best form of escape is when life becomes fraught.

Although he considers himself to be ‘permanently on call’, Henry manages to escape every day, because his escape is the workshop at the bottom of his garden.

‘There is the same joy in using your hands in a useful way but without all the anxieties … At least with woodwork the only risk is to my self-esteem, and an occasional bruised finger.’

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What a brain surgeon does in his spare time

My book is about what it’s like to be a brain surgeon, but there’s not much about the rest of my life (is this what blogs are supposed to be about?), so here is what one brain surgeon does in his spare time:

Henry Marsh in Ukraine

In Maidan in Kiev five weeks ago wearing my revolutionary blue and yellow ribbon. The hospital where I work is two hundred yards away. I studied Kremlinology many years ago at Oxford – I now combine it with brain surgery.

Henry Marsh Beekeeping

This pastoral scene is in my back garden where I keep bees (you can just see the red pillars of my workshop, where I make furniture, in the background) on the fringes of Tooting, five minutes’ bicycle ride from my hospital. Fortunately my neighbours are good friends and do not mind when my bees swarm into their garden (which they did six times last year).

Furniture Do No Harm

And here is the latest production from my workshop for my flat in Oxford – a bookcase incorporating a window and radiator. I sometimes think I might set up a business making architectural radiator covers – Early English, Perpendicular, Flamboyant, Ottoman, Doric, Ionic, etc. – this one being Romanesque.

Kate Fox

And, finally, here is my wife, Kate Fox (anthropologist and author of Watching the English), who encouraged me to write Do No Harm and came up with the perfect title.

The British brain surgeon who joined the fight against corruption in Ukraine

Guardian, 12 September 2014

Henry writes about how he came to visit and work in Ukraine after meeting fellow neurosurgeon Igor Kurilets in the State Emergency Hospital, ‘who was burning with a fierce determination to improve things that most of his senior colleagues seemed to lack’, in 1992.

He also describes the exhilaration he felt visiting the Maidan in Independence Square, only a few hundred yards from the hospital he works in, just before the violence broke out: ‘the atmosphere – despite the sinister police – was cheerful, yet you could feel a very real sense of determination’.

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We must give life or death decisions back to doctors

Daily Mail, 16 March 2014

The shortage of beds in hospitals is widely known, but the other problem crippling the NHS, Henry argues, is a lack of leadership.

‘When I cycle to work in the morning, I never quite know what is going to happen – not only because I can never be certain how well the operations will go, but also because often I do not know whether I will get any operating done at all.’

In this article, Henry takes us through a typical working day, where cancellations and confusion are commonplace: ‘many thousands of health professionals in the NHS who work so hard for their patients have no real leadership – and that is why the whole organisation seems to be permanently in disarray.’

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Confessions of a brain surgeon

The Times, 8 March 2014

‘I am not sure whether I realised it then, but this was the time when I became a little sadder but much wiser. I gradually regained my courage and used what I had learnt from the tragic consequences of my hubris to achieve much better results.’

In an extended extract from Do No Harm, Henry blends together material from several chapters and reflects on his first disastrous operation, the frustrations of NHS management, but also the wonder he still feels when looking down the enormous operating microscope: ‘the view into the patient’s brain is indeed magical – clearer, sharper and more brilliant than the world outside, the world of committees and management and paperwork and protocols.’

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