Matters of Life and Death
By: Henry Marsh
Henry Marsh is a well-known and respected neurosurgeon and author of DO NO HARM: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery for which he has received many rave reviews and accolades. His recent book focuses on the end of his career and his diagnosis of advanced prostate cancer. He has to stop and see himself as the patient and not the doctor while facing the reality of death in the possibly imminent future at the age of 70.
“As I was discovering myself, false hope – denial by another name – is better than no hope at all, but it is always very difficult for the doctor to know how to balance hope against truth when talking to patients with diseases such as mine.”
I typically love reading medical memoirs and find the inside look at the medical field fascinating even though I know that I could never be in a surgical ward or the ER. But, I have sat with patients and families as they have taken their final journey and those experiences have been humbling and something I will never forget. I was hoping this reflection of life as a surgeon while looking death in the face might be compelling and emotional, unfortunately, it was not.
“And when I became a patient myself, I was too shocked and confused to ask much about what lay ahead of me.”
If I wouldn’t have been reading this for review purposes, I would have quit reading pretty early, but I chose to follow it through to the end with a lot of skimming. Without reading Marsh’s other books, but reading the praise for them, I have to think this book is not his typical writing. This book lacked focus, rambled, and seemed like a last-ditch effort for Marsh to impart his wisdom as quickly as possible. Were there some beneficial qualities to this book? Yes, which is what kept me reading. Overall, I couldn’t quite give you the gist of what he wanted you to know except that he was a world-renowned surgeon who can no longer practice medicine, he has strong feelings about assisted deaths, he likes to do woodworking, he has advanced prostate cancer, and likes to make up stories and tell them to his grandchildren on Facetime.
I pray Henry Marsh has many more years to enjoy time with his grandchildren and spend time in his lovely cottage and that he is able to die in the way he wishes. I highly recommend WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR for another book on a doctor diagnosed with terminal cancer.