Intensive care. Critically ill patients are on the edge between life and death. They’ve been in an accident, or have self-harmed, or an illness has gained hold of their system. Their major organs are failing. A variety of medical professionals are crucial to the patients’ care. People like consultant Dr Matt Morgan, who has channelled his experiences as an intensive care doctor into this impressive and remarkable book.
A blend of memoir, history of medicine and clearly-explained human biology, Critical is a compelling read. It’s beautifully structured: the chapters focus on organs (lungs, heart, brain, bowels), with the exception of the last chapter – the Soul. Within each chapter is at least one example of a patient he has known, an explanation of their history and illness, any ethical dilemmas involved in their treatment, relevance to all of us as human beings, and finally the the patient’s outcome. This was a guaranteed formula to make me read to the end of the chapter, as I wanted desperately to know whether the patients survived and thrived. And, if they didn’t recover, then why this was so. Sadly, many admissions to Intensive Care Units do not pull through, even though the staff have done everything possible. Sometimes, it’s in the patient’s best interests for treatment to be withdrawn. Dr Morgan discusses death in a matter-of-fact but sensitive way. How can we establish if someone is actually dead? How to break the news to families? How can we know what the deceased would have wanted?
The book also contains strong warnings against smoking and excessive alcohol consumption. Dr Morgan doesn’t just tell us how bad these substances are, he illustrates this with descriptions of his patients’ illnesses, explaining exactly what the tobacco and booze do to our organs. Sleep is another factor in our health; reading about how lack of sleep affects the body, I was determined to try and get more hours of it. In common with other recent ‘medical memoirs’, this book also highlights the stress, emotional strain and exhaustion of working in a busy NHS department.
In summary, an unforgettable, compassionate and informative read.
Thank you to Simon & Schuster UK for the advance proof via NetGalley. This book will be published on May 30th.