Book Review: Complications by Atul Gawande

I recently finished reading Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science by Atul Gawande. Read on to find out a little more about the book, my thoughts, and whether or not I would recommend it.

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Book Review: Complications by Atul Gawande | kathleenhelen

Complications
In this remarkable work of nonfiction, Gawande shares his experiences as a surgeon to give an open and honest peek behind the curtain at the medical field. Studying to be a physician, especially in the area of surgery, is wholly distinct from most other professions in that public perception of when learning is complete differs drastically from the reality that doctors never finish learning. When we go to the hospital in an emergency, we expect our doctors to have all the answers and none of the questions. In reality, graduating from medical is only the beginning of a doctor’s education. To become a surgeon a residency of at least five more years must be completed after medical school.

During those residency years, patients aren’t informed what year their doctors are in, or how many of each procedure they’ve performed. Gawande highlights this fact by discussing his very first attempt at a central line. He had difficulty, as most doctors initially do and a more senior resident had to take over. But to learn how to do something correctly, it must be practiced - and in medicine, those procedures must be practiced on real people. Gawande goes on to discuss more fully the catch-22 of wanting patients to be fully informed, but needing them to be calm and assured enough to not ask for a more experienced doctor. Gawande goes on to acknowledge that this is a struggle even doctors face - when his own children need medical attention he is reluctant to allow residents to perform those procedures. 

The book shares the complications of medicine that are entirely inherent to any field in which humans are involved. Those outside the medical field (and even some within) tend to think of medicine as pure and objective and forget that it is a human hand holding the scalpel and that humans are not infallible. Through genuine cases, Gawande shows that medicine is complicated and that doctors are human.

I found Complications absolutely fascinating. Through this well-written work, Gawande shares his experiences while showing the human side of surgery and medicine. It is a quick and extremely interesting read, but at times it can also be somewhat scary. Some sections had me feeling quite anxious, and I’m not sure reading this book has relaxed any concerns I feel about medicine or the idea of surgery - but like a good trainwreck, I couldn’t put the book down.

I would recommend this to anyone interested in learning more about the medical field or intrigued by surgery, but I would caution anyone who tends to be sensitive to medical discussions or fearful of operations to be wary. One of my favourite aspects of the book is that all of the cases are taken from real experiences, and Gawande is explicit with the reader when he has to change any of the details for privacy. 

I gave Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science by Atul Gawande 5 stars out of 5 on Goodreads.

Let me know your thoughts on this book and any recommendations you have in the comments below!

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Book Review: Complications by Atul Gawande | kathleenhelen

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