SAFE HANDS A study by Canadian researchers suggests patients operated on by female surgeons are less likely to die, be readmitted or suffer complications within 30 days compared to those operated on by men. One respondent to the BMJ-published study suggested women surgeons are more careful while another questioned its methodology and “political subtext”.

THERE WILL BE BLOOD Historical treatments for menstruating women included barber surgeons bleeding them from the ankle to encourage smooth flow. Chinese medics suggested drinking yellow rice wine to harmonise the blood, while a special tonic wine laced with cocaine was encouraged circa 1916 for “sickness, so common to ladies”. A hi-tech battery-operated “electropathic belt” circa 1893 promised “new life and vigour”. Source: Wellcome Collection.

ROCK ON Rock is the top music choice for surgeons with 49 per cent listening to it in the operating theatre, closely followed by pop (48 per cent) and classical (43 per cent). The survey by Spotify and Figure 1 found a massive 90 per cent of the 700 respondents listened to music at work, with most preferring a personalised playlist over an album. Doctors said music calms them and helps improve mood and focus.

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Directed by John Alexander and Amy Neil. Starring Jodie Whittaker, Blake Harrison, Emun Elliott.

BEFORE beginning life as the new Doctor Who, Jodie Whittaker puts in an impressive turn in this psychological thriller about a nurse who assumes the identity of a hospital doctor after being sacked for whistleblowing. When her best friend emigrates to New Zealand, nurse Ally (Whittaker) becomes Dr Cath Hardacre who, with the help of a stolen CV, leaves Sheffield with her daughter for a job at

an Edinburgh A&E unit. The gravity of her situation quickly becomes apparent when she is called on to make diagnoses and carry out treatments way beyond her competence. The threat of discovery or serious patient harm plus Whittaker’s steely-eyed yet vulnerable performance make this four-parter a tense affair. The story pushes the limits of plausibility at times but, added credence is given by the fact it was written by qualified doctor Dan Sefton, who once worked at a hospital where a bogus doctor was discovered.

Book Review: Admissions: a life in brain surgery

By Henry Marsh, St Martin’s Press, £16.99, hardcover, 2017

Review by Dr Greg Dollman

THE bestselling author of Do No Harm returns. Three years on, Henry Marsh has now retired as an NHS surgeon and, in between operating in Nepal and Ukraine and single-handedly renovating a tumbledown lock- keeper’s cottage, he shares more insights into his life as a brain surgeon. Marsh is again brutally honest about his personal life, the difficult clinical decisions doctors must make every day, the outcomes of his interventions as a surgeon and the daily struggles of working in the NHS. After battling with mental health problems while a student at Oxford (he abandoned his initial degree), Marsh took up the role of a hospital porter. It was in the theatre that Marsh found a “sense of purpose and meaning”. He fills the pages of Admissions with the highs (“wonderful triumphs”) and lows (“the triumphs wouldn’t be triumphant if there weren’t disasters”) of his life as a surgeon.

Marsh tells us that his career in the NHS ended “ignominiously”,

first after a decision to resign “in a fit of anger” in the summer of 2014, then followed by an altercation with a member of staff over what Marsh describes as unnecessary ‘tick-box’ exercises

overcomplicating clinical care in the modern NHS. He shares his thoughts on the “sad decline of medicine”, and rues the seemingly inevitable collapse of the NHS. Ever insightful, Marsh reflects on the frustration, anxiety,

humiliation, anger, elation and privilege he has experienced as a neurosurgeon. He shares stories of life and death, both in his personal and professional life. He considers the issues affecting the practice of medicine in the modern world (in both developed and developing countries), from the inherent tension between caring for patients and making money, to treatment at the end of life, with Marsh sharing his thoughts on euthanasia. The cottage by the canal will be Marsh’s woodworking workshop

(this, he says, will help him cope with retirement). There he will swap patients for timber, paying as much detail to the grain of wood and type of join as he did to the sulci and gyri of the brain. A few have questioned the need for a further memoir from Marsh.

The reactions from across the world, however, have silenced the critics. Marsh describes neurosurgery as the “all-consuming love of [his] life”, and his writing reflects this. It is a joy to read.

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