Wow, is it a bad sign when I can't even think of anything worth writing in my "opening monologue" here? Last week was a fun week with all the time consuming yet worthwile link posts, but now I think it's about time to get down to the business of review writing. After all the link posts, this should be quick and painless, right? I received a copy of Complications by Atul Gawande as a Christmas gift. It's a book I'd been meaning to read for quite a while, especially given my unexpected career in the medical field. I work in a surgical pathology lab, which means, in a nutshell, that if you come to "my" hospital you won't know me or see me, but chances are I've seen a part of you (i.e. your skin biopsy, your appendix, your gallbladder and the list goes on). So, I'll admit straight off the bat, that my work, occasionally alongside surgeons and always in conjunction with them gave me a particular interest in this book. With that said, however, I think that this book is an engaging and worthwile read for anyone who has or might in the future be treated by a doctor. In other words, of course, I mean everybody should read it.
Complications is a collection of essays about Atul Gawande's experience as a surgeon and his acute observations of how the medical establishment is failing and succeeding. Gawande's essays offer us a look into the murky depths of practicing medicine that we fail to understand and appreciate despite our often frequent contact with the system. Broken up into three sections, Gawande's essays explore doctors' fallibility, unknowns and mysteries that often crop up in the treatment of patients, and, finally, uncertainty itself, a prospect we often fail to consider given the perpetual technological advancement that seems inherent in practicing medicine.
Gawande engages the reader using frequent case studies of patients he and his colleagues have encountered. These serve to draw the reader in and also as great jumping off points for Gawande to tackle the struggles and questions that plague both doctors and patients about the state of medicine today. In Complications, Gawande contemplates the mystery of pain, questions how we do and essentially must entrust patient care to doctors in training, the improbable victory of a surgeon's instinct over facts and logic, and many more fascinating topics.
Complications is an important book. It's a book that asks us to consider the fact that even the doctors who are treating us are merely fallible human beings who know a lot but are often forced to rely on gut instinct in a crunch which may work to the benefit of the patient but may also work to their detriment. It's a book that reminds the rest of us, as patients, that we have an important role to play in our own healthcare. All this, and it also features the sort of compelling, easy to understand writing that makes Complications almost impossible to put down.