I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

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Complications

Seamus O’Mahony
Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery, by Henry Marsh, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 298 pp, £16.9,  ISBN 978-0297869870 Doctors’ memoirs are generally dull, self-serving affairs, commonly self-published, something to do to fill the long days of retirement. A few rare exceptions have been bestsellers, notably The Story of San Michele (1929) by Axel Munthe, and Adventures in Two Worlds (1952) by AJ Cronin. Munthe’s memoir is largely fiction – an “impressionistic” account of his eventful life in Paris, Rome and Capri: a recent biography shows just how flimsy was the factual basis of the events described in it. Cronin’s book describes, among other things, his years as a young assistant GP in the Scottish village of Tannochbrae, working for a Dr Cameron. Tannochbrae and Cameron were entirely fictitious, and went on to starring roles in Dr Finlay’s Casebook, which established the enduringly successful template for cosy Sunday evening British television. Adventures was branded as “autobiography” mainly on the insistence of Cronin’s publisher, Victor Gollancz. Do No Harm by Henry Marsh is that rare thing: a memoir written by a still-practising doctor which is actually worth reading. Marsh is a neurosurgeon – a senior consultant, as he frequently reminds us – at St George’s Hospital in London. Why has he written this book now? He is sixty-four, not far off retirement, which he clearly is not looking forward to: “… soon I will be old and retired and then I will no longer count for much in the world.” Do No Harm contains numerous unflattering portraits of hospital managers, relatives and colleagues, and could only be written by a doctor who has no further interest in career progression and who is too near retirement for the managers to bother with disciplinary action. “Although the stories I have told are all true,”, he writes in the Acknowledgements at the end of the book, “I have changed many of the details to preserve confidentiality when necessary.” Marsh may have changed the details, but the medical facts and conversations recounted here seem so individual that one suspects that many patients (and their families and friends) could easily recognise themselves. Some his colleagues must have felt very uncomfortable reading this. Good for him. Marsh’s parents were accomplished and cosmopolitan, his father a distinguished QC and human rights lawyer, his mother a refugee from Nazi Germany. He came to medicine relatively late, having read Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Oxford. He interrupted his…

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