Neurosurgeon Henry Marsh set the trend with Do No Harm. Stephen Westaby, in Fragile Lives, tells how a lad from a council estate in Scunthorpe became a cardiac surgeon whose expertise is such that colleagues summoned him back from Australia to operate on a case they felt no-one else could tackle. From him I learned how ‘ventricular assist devices’ can tide patients over till their own heart heals or a transplant becomes available. And that patients given Jarvik artificial hearts are surviving as long as transplant patients do. And that they have no pulse – a trap for unwary first-responders.
Urology has fewer life-and-death dramas, but like his fellow memoirists, Gautam Das puts the reader in his theatre clogs. In Tender is the Scalpel’s Edge, he reminds us that the skills and judgement of the surgeon must be backed up by an experienced and dedicated team. Like his colleagues, he ponders how you give a patient a realistic picture of a grim future without destroying hope, even of a few more days of life.
Neurology can’t compete with the high-wire glamour of surgery. Patients may have intellectually fascinating diseases, but there are few happy endings: effective treatments are in short supply and cures are non-existent.