Since starting this blog, I have read various memoirs by medical professionals – a genre which provides thought-provoking insight into the practical and emotional side of modern medicine. From Atul Gawande to Suzanne O’Sullivan to Kathryn Mannix, each has offered new insight into their work and area of expertise, often through the stories of individual patients. I have recently read two more books which broaden the scope of the genre beyond case studies and explore other aspects of the author’s personal lives, careers and their specialties.
In his memoir ‘Face to Face’, Professor Jim McCaul, a consultant surgeon in maxillofacial surgery at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow, recounts cases in which he has restored patients’ appearances following accidents, violence and the removal of tumours from the head and neck (which take up around 80% of his work). Continue reading
‘With the End in Mind: Dying, Death and Wisdom in an Age of Denial’ by Dr Kathryn Mannix is a collection of anonymised patient case studies (or “stories” as Mannix calls them) drawn from her thirty years of experience as a palliative care clinician and consultant. It has been shortlisted for this year’s Wellcome Book Prize which I am shadowing with fellow book bloggers Rebecca, Laura, Annabel and Paul and is notably similar to one of the previous winners It’s All In Your Head by Suzanne O’Sullivan in that it seeks to demystify one of the most misunderstood aspects of medicine. In this case, it is death – the event that we will all one day meet (unless the transhumanists Mark O’Connell wrote about in To Be a Machine have their way…).
The Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award isn’t just about literary debuts – occasionally, young writers can be prolific and I am pleased that there has been some recognition on this year’s shortlist for Claire North, a pseudonym for Catherine Webb. Webb/North has somehow found the time to publish several science fiction and fantasy novels under her own name and two pseudonyms, writing her first book when she was just 14 and is best known for ‘The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August’. Her latest novel ‘The End of the Day’ begins with an intriguing premise in which Charlie is the Harbinger of Death, living in Dulwich and answering to his boss, Death, at head office in Milton Keynes, travelling around the world usually to meet people before their lives end: “sometimes he is sent as a courtesy, sometimes as a warning”. However, the demands of the job begin to take their toll on Charlie and put a strain on his relationship with his girlfriend Emmi. Continue reading
The last event I attended at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on Monday was Maggie O’Farrell in conversation with Hannah Beckerman. The discussion during the first half focused on her latest novel This Must Be The Place which I read last year while the second half explored her new book and first work of non-fiction ‘I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes With Death’ which is published in the UK this week. Continue reading
Having greatly enjoyed ‘Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery’ by Henry Marsh late last year, I wanted to read ‘Being Mortal: Illness, Medicine, and What Matters in the End’ by Atul Gawande, a book which formed the basis of the Reith lectures entitled ‘The Future of Medicine’ on BBC Radio 4 last year. Gawande is a writer and practicing surgeon based in Massachusetts who has published three other books about medicine. In ‘Being Mortal’, he tackles the wider issue of mortality addressing the process of aging, dying and death, without focusing on a specific area of healthcare or even his own career. Continue reading