I have been reading an excellent book by the renowned Neurosurgeon Henry Marsh called “Do No Harm”.
The title comes from part of the admonitions of the father of medicine Hippocrates to all doctors of the future… “First, do no harm”.
In the book Marsh talks honestly about the job of being a neurosurgeon. He recalls different cases that he operated on, some of which he was highly successful with and others which resulted in pain, disability or death for his patients.
Throughout he reveals his fears and his anger at attempting to treat patients who are seriously ill. The fear is in making mistakes and he admits that a brain surgeon learns more from failure than from success but at a very high price in terms of the lives of his patient and their family.
He recounts how his own child, ironically, developed a brain tumour when only three months old. He recounts rushing with his wife to his local hospital and his feelings of overwhelming fear and frustration at the seeming slowness of action for what they believed was a life-threatening condition.
It turned out that the tumour was benign and easily removed but the experience of the events stayed with Henry Marsh and made him well aware of the emotions of his patients’ families.
The key to Marsh’s book is the fact that surgeons are only human. They have to make decisions on a daily basis. Some of these decisions will be good ones and some will be seriously wrong.
I spent my working life as a teacher and consultant. I made decisions that were, as I now realise, wrong. My decisions did not have anything like the consequences that a surgeon’s decisions have. There is no life and death outcome.
Another theme of Marsh’s book is his growing resentment at developments in the service that he works in. He is a committed believer in the National Health Service and has spent nearly 40 years within it.
He bemoans the fact that many of his operations have to be postponed, often when patients have been prepared for them, because there is no bed-space available. He bemoans the paperwork that exists and the stupidity of government rules that can hinder him from operating, often with deadly results.
The video above was from a BBC “Newsnight” programme just before the recent election that has seen a Tory Government returned with intentions to continue the stealth cuts that have made our National Health Service weaker and potentially non-workable.
In the election there were many of us who pointed out that the NHS was under pressure and that an outright victory for the Conservative Party would cost lives.
Politicians make decisions that cost lives just as a surgeon does. The surgeon does so in an attempt to help and cure, in the best traditions of Hippocrates. The politician has no such idea in mind. They are the slave to their political and economic ideologies.
It is a pity that they do not have a statement that guides their actions as they seek to govern. If you can do no good DO NO HARM!