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BOOK REVIEW: And Finally: Matters of Life and Death

By Hector MacKenzie

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By Henry Marsh

Jonathan Cape (Part of the Vintage group)

£16.99 (hardback)

And Finally by Henry Marsh.
And Finally by Henry Marsh.

THE neurosurgeon's fantastically candid best-selling book Do No Harm has become a textbook reference for would-be medics and a fascinating insight for the rest of us into the life and death decision-making process of a doctor at the top of his game.

Marsh is, if anything, even more candid in this revelatory meditation on mortality, sparked by a diagnosis of advanced cancer.

The retired brain surgeon's previous dispatches from the life-and-death front line make this all the more poignant as he ponders his own potential death sentence – and the experience of becoming a patient himself after so many years on the other side of the hospital bed.

He observes that in 40 years as a neurosurgeon, he lived "in a world filled with fear and suffering, death and cancer". He writes of trying to find the balance between compassion and detachment as a surgeon – "sometimes very difficult’ – and admits that rarely did he even consider how he would feel if it happened to him.

His inside track on the way the system works is both a help and a hindrance as he attempts to navigate his way through the process as a patient facing a life-threatening illness – something an increasing proportion of us will also face as we live longer lives managing ever more complex conditions.

Marsh has previously drawn on his experience working in desperate conditions overseas in pro bono work to train surgeons and attempt challenging operations overseas to shed light on what unites as well as divides us. An awareness of how precious life is has always been at the heart of his work.

It's the author's honesty – whether or not what is revealed reflects well on him or not – in addition to his rich professional experience and awareness of the fragility of life which makes this such an outstanding read.

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