Admissions: Life as a Brain Surgeon

At age 67, Henry Marsh (Do No Harm), a leading British neurosurgeon, has dying on his mind. He's heading toward retirement, his father had dementia and, as a doctor, Marsh is more aware than most of the fragility of life and the capriciousness of death.

In 2014, Marsh bought a derelict cottage on a canal, with the aim of fixing it up as a woodworking space: "Now that I am retiring, I am starting all over again... but now I am running out of time." He still has a few weeks to go at work, so on a Monday morning, he worries about finding a bed for a patient scheduled for surgery--no bed, no surgery. As Marsh ruminates on the quality of today's health care, he rails at the current medical climate that calls for operating needlessly to maintain life, when doing so results in the "cruel and obscene joke" of vegetative states. He says, "Our moral duty in life is to reduce suffering."

He seasons the book with chapters on his parents, woodworking (he's disappointed that he's run out of tools to buy) and childhood. There is plenty of clinical detail, however, for the medically inclined. He writes, "I had always loved my work, even though it was so often painful." That love is clear in Admissions. In spite of frequent dark musings, he takes joy in his craft, in his family, his friends and his cottage on the canal. He may have dying on his mind, but he still has much to do and much to give. --Marilyn Dahl

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