Monday, February 6, 2023

An Account of A Neurosurgeon's Rendevous With Advanced Cancer

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Health, Medicine

Ed Hessler
----Doctor: You should have come before. Patient: How they do like to rap you over the knuckles, these people. If you turn a blind eye to a problem there's always a good chance it'll lose its nerve" she said cheerfully. --Penelope Lively, Perfect Happiness, Penguin

Henry Thomas Marsh is a much-celebrated British neurosurgeon who has written several books, only one of which I've read, Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery. I liked it. He tells us how he came to be a doctor, about his choice of neurosurgery, his work with aspiring practioners and what he demands of them, about cases, how neurosurgery proceeds, even how he gets to work by bicycle, his dislike of Britain's health system, etc. I imagine it to still be a wonderful book to read so I recommend it. You certainly leave with some idea of this exacting surgical practice. 
Marsh excelled - a superstar - in neurosurgery and also led the way to many improvements. One of the developments he introduced was the use of local anesthesia which allowed him to communicate with the patient during very long surgeries, an advance that has led to significant improvements in outcomes. 

Marsh also volunteered in the Ukraine. There he pioneered many advances in neurosurgery in collaboration with their growing neurosurgery program. In the U. K. he was also an acknowledged master of robotic surgery. Marsh is very well known internationally and many American neurosurgeons trained with him as residents.

More recently he was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer at the age of 70. His recently published memoir,  And Finally...Matters of Life and Death is about the experience.

Fresh Air's Terri Gross talked with him about his new book for the January 30, 2023 program which in the NPR written edition includes what it is like being a patient, some reflections on his own professional practice this experience has elicited, reasons why doctors tend to present with their cancers, as he did, late, and his life now.

The program is completely available as a 43 minute listen. In this NPR print preview, several questions and answers are highlighted. The headers are below below.

--On seeing his own brain scan, and being shocked at its signs of age.

--On continuing to work in the hospital after being diagnosed with cancer.

--On getting diagnosed at age 70, and feeling his life was complete.

--On not fearing death, but fearing the suffering before death.

--On why he supports medically assisted death.

--On knowing when it was time to stop doing surgery.


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