The Book Club

“Fragile Lives” by Stephen Westaby

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“A Heart Surgeon’s Stories of Life and Death on the Operating Table”

Year: 2017

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Publisher: Harper Collins

Notes: It was one of the few book I read in portuguese.

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My rating: 3/5

“Fragile Lives” is a memoir written by Stephen Westaby, a cardiac surgeon. It was the first medical memoir I have ever read, and it has a well written narrative, where it’s easy to understand what’s going on since the medical terms are well-explained.

Stephen guides us through his own practices thoughtout the years, recalling successful and unsuccessful surgeries. In total, there’s around 11 case stories to read, more or less, and some are successful with a happy ending, others not so much.

Westaby describes every situation with detail, and by the end of the book I think that we get a technical idea of what a heart really is. His narrative makes us eager to know what happened next – in every page – and the fact that it’s based in his real-life experiences makes it incredibly interesting. We get the adrenaline just by reading about his adrenaline. We feel a lot of emotions during this reading – we may feel sad for him, when a patient dies; and happy, because another lives. We are living a medical experience just by his words. It’s an easy to read book, like I said before, because although there’s lot of details and technical terms, Westaby describes every situation very well, explaining everything to us, readers, in a non-medical way. At the same time, we learn about pathologies, things we never knew it existed.

Humanity is another trait presented in this memoir: “Surgeons are meant to be objective, not human” says Westaby, trying to not get involved personally in each case. He often fails.

The UK health care is also a key in this book. Westaby criticises the fact that people who are old or are too sick must go home and die, because the health care don’t provide specialised treatments/machines to whose who are already “condemned” or are too risky. The health care may be free; but it’s only used to those who are “worth” saving. His words really put another perspective into it.

Overall, it’s a good book. It has morals, adrenaline and open hearts. If you like to read about doctors and life, make sure you won’t miss this book.

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