Brief guide to ... surgery

Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
I have never had, nor am I contemplating, surgery. I am not one for medical dramas, nor fly-on-the-operating-theatre-wall documentaries. Blood is not really my thing. And yet here I am nosing through The Surgery Book, a fully illustrated patient's guide to 73 of the most common operations.

If invasive medical procedures are your bag, then this is the book for you. The author, Robert N Youngson, a retired consultant, takes us through the details of hernia repair, leg amputation, Caesarean section, brain surgery, colostomy, tooth extraction and birthmark removal. His premise is that our fear of surgery stems from fear of the unknown: his mission - to let us know as much as possible.

So, with the aid of black-and-white drawings, I can chart exactly where a new kidney might be placed in a child, see step-by-step pictures of sex-change surgery and get a surgeon's-eye view of larynx removal. I can become thoroughly acquainted with pre-op procedure and post-op problems. I can go behind the scenes in the operating theatre and get right inside the patient's body, with diagrammatic views of a foetus during abortion, an eye being corrected for a squint, a spermatic cord being cut during vasectomy.

Does all this make me feel any easier? The more I read, the more I doubt Mr Youngson's assertion that, "However worried you are, it is always better to know the facts so that you can clearly understand what you are facing. Truth may be unpleasant, but it is something most people can face up to and cope with."

Of course, you are going to miss the operation itself - or are you? Mr Youngson reassures us about the advances of modern anaesthesia, but his persuasion leaves me in an increasing state of anxiety. "Many people are terrified at the possibility that they may wake up during the operation," he says. "Surprisingly, in view of the light anaesthesia used nowadays, this does not seem to be a problem."

Dr Stephen Wright, a clinical health psychiatrist at Leicester General Hospital, questions the assumption that the more people know, the better. He believes that while some patients may be reassured by operational details, others may be more interested in risk statistics or in practical coping strategies - but many may prefer to know very little at all.

Even though this is a patient's guide, Mr Youngson persists with the surgeon's perspective. He even reminds us how to behave after surgery: "Before you go, how about a word of thanks to the dedicated nurses and doctors who have looked after you so well?" I expect my physician to have a steady hand and a good eye.

I enjoyed the description of the surgeon padding about in socks before he enters the operating theatre in white rubber boots and appreciated the excellent glossary covering a wide range of medical terms. Mr Youngson is clear and accurate as he dissects the human body with the skill and precision of the surgeon's knife. But he should not assume that by being thorough, he has dealt with all his patients' fears.

'The Surgery Book', by Robert N Youngson and the Diagram Group, Century, pounds 12.99.

Comments