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Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science
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Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science

4.23  ·  Rating details ·  27,882 Ratings  ·  1,975 Reviews
In gripping accounts of true cases, surgeon Atul Gawande explores the power and the limits of medicine, offering an unflinching view from the scalpel's edge. Complications lays bare a science not in its idealized form but as it actually is--uncertain, perplexing, and profoundly human.

Complications is a 2002 National Book Award Finalist for Nonfiction.
Paperback, 270 pages
Published April 1st 2003 by Picador (first published 2002)
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Patricia
Nov 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
A year or more ago, I mistakenly placed a review for Gawande's book Better under this title. I have fixed the mix up, and I have now read Complications.

Gawande is pure pleasure to read. His writing is fluid and full of germane examples as he addresses big issues like error and incompetence as well as topics that seem less significant but which he makes worthy of consideration such as blushing and nausea. The headings for each section of the book--Fallibility, Mystery, and Uncertainty--are themat
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Ben Pederson
Feb 04, 2008 rated it did not like it
Shelves: have-read
This book wss filled with about 25 anecdotes flimsily tied together by Gawande's less than inspiring reflections. I have the book in front of me at the moment and I am paging through rereading sections that I noted along the way:

"I had come into residency to learn how to be a surgeon. I had thought that meant simply learning the repertoire of move and techniques involved in doing an operation or making a diagnosis. In fact, there was also the new and delicate matter of talking patients through t
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Libby Ames
Apr 10, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: contemporary
Although I am interested in the medical profession, motivation to learn more about it often elludes me. Gawande was able to keep my attention and present points that I could understand in spite of my limited medical knowledge.

Admittedly, some of his information scared me. After reading some points about surgery, I wondered how I ever allowed anyone to cut into me and place a plate and seven screws in my leg. Also, some of his writing made me squeemish. I had to pause or skip places that became t
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Elizabeth
Oct 24, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
Complications is a book of anecdotes about a surgical resident’s experiences and impressions of the current health care environment. Gawande divides his stories into three sections: fallibility, mystery, and uncertainty. The fallibility section demonstrates that doctors can make mistakes. Some fallibility arises from there being a learning curve. For example, it is hard to do a central line correctly the first time. But for a doctor to learn how to do a central line, he must have a first patient ...more
Jim
Oct 10, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not quite a 4 star read, but close enough. It's fairly short & does make his major points fairly well. They boil down to medicine isn't perfect.

Doctors are humans, so need to learn & will make mistakes, even with the best intentions. Do I want a doctor to learn on me or mine? Hell no! Gawande admits that he doesn't either & he makes sure they don't, BUT we won't get any new ones if they don't start somewhere. So what's the solution? There isn't a good one. Deal with it.

Patients are h
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Sue
Apr 09, 2009 rated it really liked it
Atul Gawande writes for The New Yorker, and I always read his articles as soon as I spot the by-line. I read "Better" last year and think it is even, yes, better. But both books have rare qualities. Gawande is a physician who can step back from his ego and write with compassion and insight about the relationship between vulnerable sick people and those whose skill and judgment they are compelled to trust.
l.
Read these sentences and tell me that this writer isn't an unbearable idiot:

"If choice [of one's surgeon] cannot go to everyone, maybe it is better when it is not allowed at all."

"Taking time to bond with patients is fine, but every X ray must be tracked down and every drug dose must be exactly right."

"Hospital lawyers warn doctors that, although they must, of course, tell patients about injuries that occur, they are never to intimate that they were at fault, lest the 'confession' wind up in co
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reabdimation
Mar 29, 2008 rated it liked it
Hmmm... I love surgery, it means.. when a handy book of more-humanity-and-less-cut of surgery was published.. how can i resist?

Well.. for being honest, it makes me feel bored when i've red the middle-part. it turns 'in' again in a few last chapter. I agree to middle-rating, (in Indonesia means, lumayanlah.. bukan buku sampah) of this book. but i truly disagree when sumone gave only one star rating to this stuff. (Cari deh di tinjauan lain. Huh. You make me angry dude.. pelit amat sih. Gue nggak
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Sarah
Mar 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Wow! I loved this and I love Dr. Gawande.

The first section is about how it is necessary for medical residents to learn how to do procedures on people, but how it's just as necessary to sort of glide over that fact with patients. This was the most exciting part of the book because he went over his own early surgeries and the complications that arose.

The rest of the book is about how, even though medicine is a 'scientific' field, it's ultimately human and fallible. My anxiety was high during mos
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Lucy
Jul 26, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2007
this was a very interesting book. i liked his writing style, too. it was far more engaging than the stupid tree book. isn't this author bio a bit sickening, though? "atul gawande, a 2006 macarthur fellow, is a general surgeon at the brigham and women's hospital in boston, a staff writer for the new yorker, an assistant professor at harvard medical school, and a frequent contributor to the new england journal of medicine. gawande lives with his wife and three children in newton, massachusetts." t ...more
Cheryl
Jul 28, 2011 rated it really liked it
Great. Reminds me of why I wanted to do medicine.
Katie
Aug 10, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Everyone
An very well written book in which Gawande argues that surgery is an evolving and imperfect art. He begins by describing in compulsively readable detail some occasions during which it has failed its patients. An overarching theme in the book is an idea of what makes a good surgeon; Gawande points out that it's not about innate talent. It's about practice, commitment, a willingless to learn new things, a willingness to teach others, specialization, and perhaps attentiveness to the patient. (I als ...more
Christina
Aug 12, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. The thesis is simple: Medicine is an incomplete, uncertain, mind-bogglingly complex science. But there's also a fair amount of "Doctors are people, too" and not in the "cut us some slack" sense, but in the "everybody makes mistakes" sense. If you have an infallible faith in doctors and medicine, read this book. If you think doctors are just regular Joes who don't know much more than the rest of us, read this book. If you're like me and you just like to read about medical stuff ...more
Book Concierge
Nov 04, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: EVERYONE
This National Book Award finalist REALLY makes you think! It opens your eyes to the imperfections in our system of medical care.

Gawande is a surgical resident (when he wrote it), a thinker and a poet. He uses case histories to explore the thinking, the philosophy, of medicine. He speaks of mistakes and intuition, luck and skill, good outcomes despite bad treatement, and devastating outcomes despite excellent care. This should be required reading for all medical students and regularly re-read by
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Molly Cinderella
Apr 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2015
I love vacations.
Megan
Jun 14, 2010 rated it really liked it
Recently I had to see a doctor for something that was bothering me. I went to my normal family physicians group, who referred me to a gastroenterologist, and eventually had to have a couple procedures in the hospital before I was offhandedly diagnosed with IBS. I say "offhandedly" because that's what it was: the gastroenterologist at first said I seemed to have had some kind of stomach bug that threw me out of whack, and then, when I asked further, finally said "Yeah, I think you have IBS." He d ...more
Jessika
Jul 29, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This book only got three stars from me mostly because even though I enjoyed it as I was reading, I didn't love it as much as I thought I was going to.

I think the thing I liked the most about Complications was that it was really thought-provoking. Gawande does an excellent job at poking and prodding your mind to get you to think about the answers to questions that don't necessarily have a right or wrong answer. For as much as we all seem to think that medicine is this black and white area of lif
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Jessica
May 01, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Complications deals with the mysteries and uncertanties of medicine, beginning with a reminder that doctors are (like the rest of us) fallible humans, and ones who often have to pretend they know more than they really do. He brings up difficult questions, like the quandary of giving a patient full disclosure ("Hi, I'm Dr. Gawande, and this is the first time I've ever performed this complicated surgery. But don't worry! The other doctor in the room has done it plenty of times and will be here to ...more
Vaidya
Apr 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
It was kind of unsettling reading stories of illnesses and the way doctors deal with them. The sheer fallibility of them, the different things that can go wrong, which aren't in anyone's control. Scary!

The main point Dr. Gawande wants to drive home is this - "Doctors are human. Any factors that affect success/failures of people in other professions, affect them also." And there are a myriad other things here, like how updated the doctor is, what stage of his career he is, if she's dealing with d
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Salvatore Daddario
May 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Wow - this book was so great. I'm sad that it's over! It is basically a collection of stories as told by Dr. Gawande - stories that he has collected from his time in surgical residency. He discusses mistakes that doctors make in medicine, a collection of hard-to-solve cases, and medical uncertainty. This is among the first medical-related books that I have ever read, which helped to add to the intrigue and absolute fascination. Some of my favorite parts were his discussion on inexplicable chroni ...more
Fares
Jan 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This was probably the best book I have read for Atul Gawande yet. Atul has a great way of laying out his ideas and experience through story-telling. He takes the reader into journeys around a particular topic very smoothly and in an enjoyable way.
He's got a nice approach to writing. He starts with an interesting introduction on something he wants to discuss and shed light on, lays down the background and fundamentals, without neglecting to convey across any intricacies involved. This often has t
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K
Apr 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A very worthwhile if somewhat demanding read about the often underestimated margin of error in medicine. Gawande's book describes understandable human error when split-second decisions need to be made, doctors who burn out with others (colleagues, supporting staff, patients, and most of all the doctors themselves) slow to realize it and failing to make the necessary changes, mysterious ailments like chronic back pain, nausea, and uncontrollable blushing with elusive (nonexistent?) physical cause ...more
Cheryl
Mar 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
With honesty and humility Dr. Gawande provides the reader an insight into the practice of medicine. A general surgeon at Boston's Brigham & Women's Hospital, Dr. Gawande writes movingly about the challenges and uncertainties doctors face each day as they strive to provide the best treatment possible for their patients.

The book jacket aptly sums up this outstanding book, "In gripping accounts of true cases, surgeon Atul Gawande explores the power and limits of medicine... Complications lays b
...more
Kirsten
Feb 16, 2008 rated it really liked it
This is a fascinating collection of essays by a young surgeon about various aspects of surgical medicine. For me, the most interesting chapter dealt with surgeons who go bad -- not dramatically terrible surgeons, just those who start out as excellent and slowly sink to mediocrity and eventually malpractice. I think people who enjoyed the medical chapters of Stiff might find this one equally interesting.
Malbadeen
Jun 22, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
After reading this book I had less faith in medicine and more respect for doctors. Gawande's description of performing medical procedures for the first time on real people was both creepy and intriguing.
Amber
May 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
"Practice is funny that way. For days and days, you make out only the fragments of what to do. And then one day you've got the thing whole. Conscious learning becomes unconscious knowledge, and you cannot say precisely how."

Rachel Brown
Jul 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
A medical memoir/set of essays and case studies, very much in the tradition of Oliver Sacks' The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, only less technical and about surgery rather than neurology. Specifically, it's about the human element in medicine: how errors occur and how to prevent them, how and why doctors learn, succeed, and fail, and areas of medicine about which very little is understood. It's fascinating.

One of the essays which I thought has particularly broad resonance was on how anesth
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Wendy Burks
Sep 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Must read for those in the medical profession (where it was first recommended to me) as well as anyone touched by it, i.e. everyone! This is a fantastic read sprinkled with fascinating anecdotes, peppered with just the right amount of empirical support. The strength of this book is in Gawande's unique perspective as a surgeon himself and his forthcoming, honest approach to medicine being an imperfect science, yet him always striving to understand and learn more. The book is a refreshing, insight ...more
Perri
Apr 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Complications is one of the first books published by Gawande and shows his writing talent in humanizing medicine, especially surgery. I plan to read more of his books leading up to his powerfully affecting, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the EndBeing Mortal.
Jon Zuckerman
Apr 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
I thought this book was pretty insightful, it made me think a lot harder about the actual people in Healthcare rather than the system as a whole. The anecdotal writing style is entertaining if not a tad biased. There were about 20 pages in the middle that were very sloggy, but overall I enjoyed this one and plan on reading his other books as well.
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Atul Gawande is author of three bestselling books: Complications, a finalist for the National Book Award; Better, selected by Amazon.com as one of the ten best books of 2007; and The Checklist Manifesto. His latest book is Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End.

He is also a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, a staff writer for The New Yorker, and a professor at Harvard
...more
More about Atul Gawande...

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“We look for medicine to be an orderly field of knowledge and procedure. But it is not. It is an imperfect science, an enterprise of constantly changing knowledge, uncertain information, fallible individuals, and at the same time lives on the line. There is science in what we do, yes, but also habit, intuition, and sometimes plain old guessing. The gap between what we know and what we aim for persists. And this gap complicates everything we do.” 163 likes
“No matter what measures are taken, doctors will sometimes falter, and it isn't reasonable to ask that we achieve perfection. What is reasonable is to ask that we never cease to aim for it.” 38 likes
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