Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science Book Review

Atul Gawande’s Complications was thankfully not a very difficult book to read for someone without a medical background.  The narrative of each chapter was fluid with strong character development that engaged the reader with the difficult decisions of both doctors and their patients.  The story of a young woman who came into the emergency room with a cut on her foot that wouldn’t heal weaved into the story of a doctor who wouldn’t give up on saving this young woman’s leg from Necrotizing Fasciitis.  An intern’s misdiagnosis leading to the death of a patient became a larger discussion of morbidity and mortality conferences and the relationships between interns, residents, and attendings.  The complications referenced in the title were not only medical in nature.  In some chapters they were about personal struggles doctors and patients had to overcome. A patient who could not climb the stairs to his bedroom nor operate the machines vital to his construction business because of his girth made the decision to undergo gastric bypass surgery, a procedure that helped save his life but also took many months to adopt into his daily routines and returned health.

Surgery by Designer Collaborative, from the Noun Project (2004), CC By 1.0
Surgery by Designer Collaborative, from the Noun Project (2004), CC By 1.0

The essays also discussed the issue of infallibility.  Doctors make mistakes and sometimes they need to be forced to step away from the profession if they are doing more harm than good for their patients.  Dr. Gawande tells these stories truthfully but with a silver lining. Medicine is an imperfect science but it is also a transformative one.  Physicians are in a profession where skills and knowledge bases need to be constantly expanded upon and refined to keep up with best practices and evidence based treatment successes.

I am always looking for suggestions for interesting health sciences book to read and share with you on the blog.  If you have suggestions, please comment below.  Up next in my queue are Dr. Gawande’s follow-up monographs: Better and the Checklist Manifesto.   I am also looking into the eclectic work of Mary Roach.

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