Katie's Reviews > Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science

Complications by Atul Gawande
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's review
Aug 10, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: nonfiction, own-it-and-read-it, read-in-2009, new-in-2009
Read in January, 2009

We like doctors in my family. We don't have any--though we're overrun with nurses, in a good way--but we like them. In the past ten or so years I've had three major surgeries and two minor ones. All were recommended to me by my doctors, I personally chose to have all of them, and all of them have improved my life. But I've had my share of bad days with doctors, sitting in an ER on oxygen for seven hours without being seen (I'd gone up on the board incorrectly), given antibiotics I knew from experience wouldn't work (several times)... but at the end of the day, I've always had excellent care. All of the ones that led me at all astray have been forthright and apologetic about it. But I've never had a problem grasping the idea that all of my doctors--and nurses, and aides, and everyone else involved with my care--are human and fallible. I know that every time I go under general anesthesia, there is risk involved. I know that residents and fellows are learning. I don't know, maybe I'm an anomaly, but I've never felt like a guinea pig; I just realize that the science of medicine isn't perfect, isn't exact, and that there are risks involved. This is life, after all. Of course there are risks involved.

I enjoyed Complications a lot, primarily because it throws into such relief the humanity of the medical field. Doctors, even the best ones, are just people. Sometimes there's no right or wrong decision, just gut feeling. But for me, to recognize the fallibility of the people caring for me is also to recognize their skill and respect what they do. Because if, after unfathomable years of school and training and supervision and everything else, all they can really do is take their best guess, well, that throws into relief how little I know and how little I am in a position to do for myself. I appreciated the relative transparency in Complications and I wish that doctors were encouraged to be that way more generally.

In short: concise, interesting, nicely-written (if anecdotal). I suppose it's not the best if you're squeamish. It'll be particularly interesting if you're a person that's had a dinner time conversation about necrotizing fasciitis or similar.

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