New Statesman has an excellent profile of the wise, funny and acerbic neurosurgeon Henry Marsh.
Marsh was the subject of the fantastic 2007 documentary The English Surgeon but he’s now one year away from retirement and has clearly decided that diplomatic responses are no longer a tactical necessity.
The piece also gives a vivid insight into the working life and daily challenges of a consultant neurosurgeon.
It’s also wonderfully written. This is pure joy:
When he finally went to medical school, at the Royal Free Hospital in London, he wasn’t sure about his choice. “I thought medicine was very boring,” he says bluntly. Henry is not a man to refrain from speaking his mind. “I didn’t like doctors. I didn’t like surgeons. It all seemed a bit dumb to me.” In Do No Harm he writes of his revulsion at what much surgery generally entails: “long bloody incisions and the handling of large and slippery body parts”.
But while working as a senior house officer, he observed a neurosurgeon use an operating microscope to clip off an aneurysm – a small, balloon-like blowout on the cerebral arteries that can cause catastrophic haemorrhages. It is intensely delicate work, using microscopic instruments to manipulate blood vessels just a few millimetres in diameter. It is also, as Henry says, like bomb disposal work, in that it can go very badly wrong – with the crucial difference that it is only the patient’s life at risk, not the surgeon’s. If this or any other kind of serious neurosurgery goes right, however, the doctor is a hero. “Neurosurgery,” he smiles, “appealed to my sense of glory and self-importance.”
Marsh has just written an autobiography called Do No Harm which I’ve just started reading. I’m only part way through but it’s already gripping and wonderfully indiscreet.
Link to New Statesman profile of Henry Marsh.