War Doctor by David Nott: Book Review

I want to start by saying this is one of the best non-fiction books I’ve read in a long time. About two weeks ago I went on holiday and I bought a fiction to read, as I usually prefer reading fiction on holiday but I found myself finishing War Doctor and not even starting my new book. I couldn’t put it down. It had just the right amount of background, politics (which is an important part of this book), science and medicine. Politics is not usually something that interests me and so I appreciate it when books aren’t too politically heavy, which this book isn’t. However, I did find that it had the right amount of politics for me to understand the basics of the situations in Syria, Gaza, Afghanistan, Sarajevo and the rest of Nott’s mission destinations.

I particularly enjoyed reading the parts where Nott explains different surgeries and the differences between how surgery works in a hospital as we know it vs in austere environments.

‘You have to have a different bit of your head switched on – you can’t take your normal NHS mindset to war’

page 46

I learnt about damage control surgery. Which is a term I had never come across before. This is a technique used in severe trauma situations and is based on prioritising controlling the patients vital signs (usually bleeding) before trying to perform any other surgery on them.

The main reason we read books is to gain insight into something we would otherwise not be able to, and this book gives exactly that. It really highlights the highs and the lows of volunteering as a healthcare professional in austere environments. Towards the end of the book, you also get an insight into the sacrifices Nott has made in order to carry out this amazing work, and the affect it has had on his mental health.

‘But I was too numb to grieve. Death had become all too routine’

page 302

‘But I was no longer sure who I was. The mission had taken me apart’

Page 308

I recommend this book to anyone, but especially those interested in surgery. Out of the medical related books I’ve read, this one spoke about surgery in a practical and informative way, sometimes even taking you through the steps of a particular surgery. War Doctor is hard hitting and not for the faint hearted, but the lessons I learnt from this book will stay with me forever.

If you’re interested here is part of the summary (taken from good reads):

For more than twenty-five years, David Nott has taken unpaid leave from his job as a general and vascular surgeon with the NHS to volunteer in some of the world’s most dangerous conflict zones. From Sarajevo under siege in 1993 to clandestine hospitals in rebel-held eastern Aleppo, he has carried out lifesaving operations in the most challenging conditions, and with none of the resources of a major metropolitan hospital. He is now widely acknowledged as the most experienced trauma surgeon in the world. War Doctor is his extraordinary story, encompassing his surgeries in nearly every major conflict zone since the end of the cold war, as well as his struggles to return to a “normal” life and routine after each trip…’

If you like this kind of book you would also enjoy The Prison Doctor by Amanda Brown.

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