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  1. Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery review | Books | The Guardian
  2. What to expect after heart valve surgery
  3. I'm sorry, I can't face being a doctor any more

Even the simplest of therapies carries the risk of making things worse. Drugs to thin your blood against clots run the risk of devastating haemorrhage. The most dangerous speciality is widely considered to be neurosurgery. Brain surgeons such as Henry Marsh, the author of this startling and moving memoir, have to live, breathe, operate and make urgent decisions in full awareness of a terrible dilemma: I worked as a junior neurosurgical trainee once, at the bottom of what he calls "the strict medical hierarchy", and realised then that living with such responsibility is not just onerous, it utterly transforms the lives of those who bear it.

It's understandable that it should be demanding: Walking along the quiet, orderly corridors he recognised "at least five" of the names on the door plaques as those of former patients of his — the home is like a museum of his operative failures. A friendly orthopaedic surgeon, called in to set Marsh's broken leg, pities him for his choice of career. Many of the chapters describe his triumphs, and, in intricate and fascinating detail, his daily work. As a junior surgeon the first procedure he witnessed was to clip an aneurysm — a pathological weakening of a brain artery that, if it ruptures, can cause paralysis or death.

The operation seemed to him charged with meaning and set him off on his career. It is "a secret and mysterious area where all the most vital functions that keep us conscious and alive are to be found. Exhilarated after performing a successful and protracted life-saving operation one day, he confesses how irritating it was to have to stand in the queue at the supermarket: It's full of fascinating stories, both from Professor Stephen Westaby himself as he takes us through some of the key operations in his career, but there's also a lot focusing on the people going under Westaby's knife and how they felt, what led to them needing surgery including back storie Book reviews and more on www.

It's full of fascinating stories, both from Professor Stephen Westaby himself as he takes us through some of the key operations in his career, but there's also a lot focusing on the people going under Westaby's knife and how they felt, what led to them needing surgery including back stories and how they fared afterwards. It's a real rollercoaster of highs and lows, with some great results and some which made me feel so sad. I suppose that's all part of operating on something as important as the human heart though!

It did make me think, I don't imagine I could ever deal with even half the pressure surgeons are always under, and all the emotions from not just the patients themselves but their partners, friends and families too! What a lot of pressure! The way the book is written allows someone who is certainly not scientific-minded - ie. It's not such complex language that you can't follow it, and Westaby explains things in a way that makes it a lot clearer and accessible to everyone.

I loved this book. It's interesting, full of emotion, failure but also triumph, and you can really understand the author's passion for his profession. I never spent enough time with my own. I also found the details about the NHS so interesting, as his career starts back in the 80's and carries on through to the present day. The NHS is something I'm so passionate about, and there's a very interesting quote towards the end of the book which really makes you think about the system today: Now no one wants to be a heart surgeon.

I really wanted to like it and honesty thought I would. I loved When Breath Becomes Air and thought this might be similar. The author is a retired heart surgeon in the UK, so a lot of the commentary about their healthcare system NHS felt disconnected to me. It was very technical and explained medical procedures in great overly excessive detail, and I skimmed through some of these descriptions. My biggest complaint about the book, however, is the fact that Westab This book My biggest complaint about the book, however, is the fact that Westaby just isn't a writer and has little concept of grammatical conventions.

Every other sentence was a fragment, and it just became exhausting to read. Many reviews complain about the arrogance of the author, and truth be told, I didn't mind that part. I actually want a surgeon to be a little arrogant about his abilities, but on the flip side, I want an author to be aware of basic conventions of writing. Feb 12, Ellie rated it it was amazing Shelves: As a child Westaby watched two of his grandparents die slow painful deaths; his grandfather from heart failure and his grandmother from a cancer which left her to suffocate.

This experience has clearly directed his career and his desires to help those who would otherwise be written off. He says you need to be objective as a surgeon, but he never comes across as uncaring. It's amazing how far medicine has come in just a few generations. Who would have thought artificial hearts can and do work. The As a child Westaby watched two of his grandparents die slow painful deaths; his grandfather from heart failure and his grandmother from a cancer which left her to suffocate.

The ability for a truly rested heart to regenerate is eye-opening and makes you wonder why we can't be doing this for more people. The hearts seem to take quite a beating, both through life and surgery. There's young people struck down in their prime by viruses and undetected genetic weaknesses. There is trauma and those who have just reached the end of their heart's functioning. One pregnant woman is determined to keep her baby despite medical advice to the contrary, Westaby being the only one who will risk surgery on her. The introduction does explain the basic function and structure of the heart, however if you have very little knowledge of anatomy, biology or medicine you might struggle to follow some of the cases.

He does go into quite a bit of detail on each surgery, which some also might find gory. It's only briefly mentioned at the end, but you can sense his frustration with the system in some of the cases. Who thinks it makes sense to send senior surgeons on courses to learn CPR? And the death list! Some government idiot decided to name and shame surgeons who have deaths on their operating tables.

Seriously ill people will die sometimes. This just deters surgeons from taking risks, risks that could save lives. Most people given a chance of a slow and painful death or a risky surgery, would rather have the surgery. Instead they are filled with drugs and sent home to die. This book shines a light on how harsh the "postcode lottery" can be. Westaby raised charitable funds to help patients in his Oxford hospital and he also had the expertise there, something a lot of hospitals just don't have, not through any fault of their own. Despite Oxford being a centre of excellence for heart surgery, they were not a transplant centre and therefore they got no NHS funding for the very pumps Westaby had trailblazed.

He might be able to fix you, but the device he needed just wasn't always available. Marsh and Westaby are likely the last of the pioneering NHS surgeons. Politicians would rather create lists and targets and 7 day GPs that no one has asked for. Why would any skilled doctor want to work in an environment where they are prevented from doing what's best for their patients?

This review makes the book sound moanier than it is. It just triggered my personal anger over the slow demoralisation of the NHS. In fact it's really quite uplifting in what we can achieve will the right will. The sacrifices made by medical staff are always appreciated. Review copy provided by publisher.


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Feb 07, Chantal Lyons rated it it was amazing. That book is a wondrous eye-opener; "Fragile Lives" is a gut-wrenching adrenaline rush, written by another member of the retired-eminent-surgeon club, Stephen Westaby. The writing is no-nonsense yet vivid, sparing with its forays into more imaginative territory.

The writing, the narration and the subject matter are a perfect recipe for the white-knuckle clutching of the book, lip-biting, eye-stinging, internal groaning when your tube reaches your stop. In short, I was gripped. What I remember of "Do No Harm" is that the brain surgery in it was comparatively much, much calmer than the heart surgery in this book.

Seconds of bleeding or the stillness of a heart make the difference between whether the amount of cells that have died will kill the patient. You do have to concentrate. I sometimes struggled to visualise exactly what Westaby was doing to the heart in the various operations followed in the book. But I got the gist, and I suspect no matter how many books by surgeons I might read in my life, there will always be a magical mystery to the art. Westaby often describes the torture of empathy and the need for a surgeon to avoid it so that he can stay focused and keep trying to save lives.

But his empathy still shines through in every chapter. He risks dismissal and litigation to yank people back from the brink, and he has what I can only describe as Stephen Hawking-like genius in surgical form. He worked hard to get where he was, too, having been born on a council estate in Scunthorpe and spent summers as a hospital porter before making it into university, the first in his family to do so. You could save a life too.

Mar 09, Ithil rated it really liked it Shelves: I feel the need to provide an review for its community in the same language it was provided to me. I do have to say I do know a bit regarding anatomy and physiology, and I did not expect the author to dive in it so deep on it. I mean, there are even diagram [b]As I received this book from Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review, the review itself will be written in English as so it is the book. I mean, there are even diagrams and drawings explaining bits and bobs about how the heart and circulatory system works from a Doctors point of view.

This has been very enjoyable, I loved how detailed some explanations were, mostly regarding surgeries and procedures. Those were my favourite bits. We will follow the author from the main reason he got interested in cardiac surgery, till quite recent in time thoughout a series of surgeries. He will walk us through a series of cases, and patients, that will follow his career and development as surgeon from the most simple to the really challenging ones that will leave you bitting your nails hoping for the best.

It is raw medicine, meaning sometimes it goes really well and everything is amazing, but some others it does not. And I think it was really important to deliver that message as well. Because it is a history of a human being, and only success would have made it boring, dull, and not realistic at all.

And well, if it was only failure, he would not have become the eminence he is at the moment in hin field. Really enjoyable, I loved it and read it in about a couple of days. Westaby is a pioneering heart surgeon who retired recently after 50 years at the operating table.


  • Immediately after surgery.
  • Where Time Is Infinite.
  • See a Problem?!
  • Four Young Soldiers And Sergeant Doyle.

Here he recounts some of his more interesting cases. There were some fascinating stories and Westaby comes across as a surgeon with heart pun totally intended. I would recommend this to anybody who enjoys a good medical memoir. Jun 05, Sean Goh rated it it was amazing. Powerfully moving, probably because the subject matter is one of life and death. Lost count of the number of times I was gripped by strong feelings.

Repetitive at times how many times do you want to hear about the author sawing through the sternum with the electrocautery, piercing the pericardium etc etc. Still, each case is sufficiently distinctive to not lose the reader. The author has an interesting habit of thinking up innovative surgical methods on long flights, which was cool. This may seem insensitive, even callous, but to dwell on death was a dreadful mistake then, and it still is now. We must learn from failure and try to do better the next time. But to indulge in sorrow or regret brings unsustainable misery.

Heart surgery might become an everyday occurrence for me, but for the patient and their relatives it is once in a lifetime, and absolutely terrifying. Sleep deprivation underpins the psychopathy of the surgical mind — immunity to stress, an ability to take risks, the loss of empathy. Surgeons are meant to be objective, not human. The heart failure paradox — the muscle is replaced by water but the weight stays the same. There is such a narrow margin between life and death. Survival depends upon those present being able to treat the problem, upon whether the correct treatment is applied and if it is done at the right time.

What makes a quick surgeon? Not haste or rapid hand movements. In fact, quite the opposite — being well organized, not doing unnecessary things, getting every stitch where it needs to be and not having to repeat anything. And who would, with the long, taxing operations, the anxious relatives, and the nights and weekends on call?

Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery review | Books | The Guardian

I am always drawn to books written by physicians about their experiences as I've always been fascinated by the field of medicine. This book was very well written. The author is drawn to cardiology after witnessing the death of a cardiac patient during an operation - an operation he watched unnoticed from the viewing area high above the operating table where he should not have been. He makes it his goal to save as many people as possible from cardiac death. The book covers his ups and downs throu I am always drawn to books written by physicians about their experiences as I've always been fascinated by the field of medicine.

What to expect after heart valve surgery

The book covers his ups and downs throughout a grueling training and education, and on to become one of the best cardiac surgeons in the US. Not a natural writer. Lots of whinging about the British health care system, which had limited relevance to this American reader. Open Heart reads like a fast-paced action adventure movie. Westaby takes us on a brief biographical journey as to how he became interested in heart surgery, his training and then torpedoes straight into different life or death situations which require delicate procedures, his abilities and steely confidence.

We meet a young girl with a genetic heart defect, an old man with congestive heart failure, a pregnant woman who needs surgery but refuses to terminate the life of her unborn baby as well as Open Heart reads like a fast-paced action adventure movie. We meet a young girl with a genetic heart defect, an old man with congestive heart failure, a pregnant woman who needs surgery but refuses to terminate the life of her unborn baby as well as others.

One of the most poignent was his time in Saudi Arabia when he worked on the tiny heart of an infant of a Somalian woman who had been kidnapped and forced into slavery. She had escaped and crossed the desert to save her son. The story is as heart rending as it is amazing because Westaby takes out the baby's heart and puts it back in after mending it.

I had just been appointed in Oxford. So why was I in the desert? Heart operations cost money So the management closed us down Westaby points out that Health Care in the U. Patients considered too old or too sick were told to go home and die. The majority of Westaby's heart implants were funded through charity, not NHS.

And lest you think they're sending away geriatrics, people in their fifties were considered too old for treatment.

I'm sorry, I can't face being a doctor any more

Children and people in the twenties were turned down because they were deemed too sick. National Health Care may be fine for normal well-checks and colds and sniffles, but if you need highly specialized care, like a heart transplant, good luck. Hope the government thinks you're worth saving.

Westaby, though British, received training in the United States and he introduced inventions by American doctors, such as a tiny electric heart that circulates the blood for the defective heart inside people. Interestingly, there is no pulse as there is no pumping involved. All of Westaby's stories are suspenseful because you don't know if his patients are going to make it. Much of what he does is brand new and he is only allowed to try the new technology on patients who are going to die anyway.

Some of them get a reprieve, some don't, but the medical advancements are stupendous. My only complaint and why I did not give the book five stars was the foul language used sporadically through out the book. I mean, come on, you're a brilliant man, couldn't you at least pretend to have a professional grip on the English language?

I know what he was doing was extremely stressful, but try to show you possess the vocabulary worthy of your mind, not the vocabulary of an adolescent. Or brain damaged people. My grandmother never swore a word until after her stroke. That quibble aside, I highly recommend this book. It is not only informative and exciting and fascinating, it is well-written. Westaby, assuming he didn't use a ghost writer-and it doesn't read in the stilted, wooden fashion of a ghost writer-apart from the occasional f-and s-bombs, has superb literary skills.

Finally, people interested in changing our health care system to a socialized form because then "everyone can have health care" should read this book. They might have second thoughts. Jan 30, Joanna rated it it was amazing Shelves: This book is a bit like Grey's Anatomy with each chapter and case study emotionally gripping and heart wrenching pun not intended. Westaby is humble in his arrogance and self-effacing in his success.

He knows exactly what he is all about and how to get the story out without getting lost in the details. This last part is hugely important because he also doesn't scrimp on the technical language and bits and pieces of the body that gets sawed through and dropped and battered while being fixed and This book is a bit like Grey's Anatomy with each chapter and case study emotionally gripping and heart wrenching pun not intended.

This last part is hugely important because he also doesn't scrimp on the technical language and bits and pieces of the body that gets sawed through and dropped and battered while being fixed and occasionally failed. He has an incredible way of placing things in their context while never knowingly telling a straightforward story. I never knew which of the patients was going to die and the point he was making was that heart surgeons don't always know either.

This gripping account of heart surgery kept me up for three nights in a row and I got through a lot of tissues. His stories make for an amazing read and I hope that now he has retired a bit he will find time to write more. Well, to write more for the general public. He is already well-published having written the chapter on Ballistic Injuries of the Chest for the British military's textbook of emergency medicine. He asks the political questions too and we alongside him watch young healthy people die because of the underfunding of the NHS and political decisions made away from the doctors.

He asks "Should a First World health-care system use modern technology to prolong life? Or should it let young heart failure patients die miserably like in the Third World? He knows the effects. A lot of the work he writes about was funded through charity and this is a reflection on neoliberalism and not just the latest Conservative plus one government.

No surprise that for a man this accomplished he has done an excellent work in conveying it in a gripping and emotional way, even though he points out that it's important for surgeons not to stress and not to get too involved with their patients. His humanity shines through despite that.

Westaby is an insufferable person. Yet, his arrogance, disregard for hospital politics, and pompous nature makes him an excellent advocate for terminally ill patients who are denied treatment options due to risks involved or simply lack of imagination. I admire many of his bold decisions and applaud his triumph in many pioneer ventricular assist device installations.

However, Westaby's self-importance is almost intolerable, just from reading this book! I get that he is great and has saved lives. I get that he has accomplished much what seemed to be impossibilities at the time. But does he expect people to put him on a pedestal, carry him around in a chariot, and bow in his presence? That attitude is indisputably reflected in this book. It is only in the last chapter and in the Epilogue Westaby shows some humility and admittance to the limits of his abilities. I enjoy reading about all the cases in this book.

Westaby's writing is not very refined. Nevertheless, his writing style makes reading this book as if he is speaking to the readers directly. It does breaks the barrier of medical technicality and makes these treatment cases more accessible to readers who have not read many medical non-fictions.

I really wanted to like this book, but ultimately it's just 2-star book. Apr 03, Anne rated it really liked it Shelves: This is the story of a cardiac surgeon and the decisions he makes, the outcomes of those decisions and most importantly for me the impact of those outcomes. Dr Westaby Mr Westaby? I'm not sure of the convention is a real human being who is emotionally committed to his job and his patients. He isn't the aloof, stand offish surgeon refusing to acknowledge the conscious lives of the bodies on his table and the book is very rich because of that.

You feel his pain - and his joy - and you learn wh This is the story of a cardiac surgeon and the decisions he makes, the outcomes of those decisions and most importantly for me the impact of those outcomes. You feel his pain - and his joy - and you learn why decisions are made and how people are effected. Starting from the beginning of his career, we follow how a person develops into a top cardiac surgeon operating on vulnerable people and inventing new procedures. We understand the frustrations and triumphs and his difficulties of working in the NHS. The book is moving and funny and human and I recommend it.

This is a useful addition to the canon of work explaining complex professions and is one of the best I've read. I was given a copy of the book by Netgalley in return for an honest review. This is an astonishing read. There are just no words Like a sponge, I relish the opportunity to learn about something This is an astonishing read.

Waking Up After Brain Surgery!

Like a sponge, I relish the opportunity to learn about something different.