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3.8 out of 5 stars42
3.8 out of 5 stars
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on 1 July 2002
Wow, I could not put this down. As a medical student and a part time healthcare assistant I am aware of two views of the medical profession and found this book to be very accurate in terms of interstaff relationships and attitude. The thoughts and inexperience of the newly qualified doctor are vividly portrayed, although this may scare some medical students (and members of the general public) having experienced working in a hospital myself I feel these should serve only to prepare for what is to come, not to put students off. The book is also very accessable to the general public as all specialised terms are explained and the story is great, enough to maintain interest without full knowledge of every procedure involved.
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on 24 March 2003
The scariest thing about this book is the final sentence on the back-cover blurb: "...(a) disturbingly authentic dispatch from the frontline of hospital life". Jed Mercurio has made a name for himself by tapping into the recognition that hospital soaps used to portray a one-sided, glamorous view of hospital life, and deliberately portraying the other side: medical blunders, cover-ups, callous doctors etc. This does not make his book 'authentic'. Rather, it is equally one-sided - he presents a view that is jaundiced, pessimistic and ulimately hopeless. Just as the soaps cram far more heroism into hospital life than really occurs, so he crams far more lethal negligence and cynicism than really occurs. For most of us in the NHS, the truth lies somewhere between: we have seen (and perhaps made) both disastrous blunders and strokes of life-saving genius, amidst long stretches of routine; we have felt both despair and pride. Dr Mercurio's book may be authentic for him, but I find it hard to imagine he is in a majority.
The medicine itself is not always authentic either. I don't know of any NHS hospital (and I've worked in a few) where the medical SHO prescribes for and extubates patients on ICU. And as for a patient waking up immediately after a twenty-minute cardiac arrest (due to 'massive MI') - well, it could be straight off Holby City. Like a previous reviewer, I found the footnotes excessive. Maybe a non-medical reader would find them valuable, but even he/she would probably have spotted something wrong with Dr Mercurio's definition of the 'mons vaginis'.
On the plus side, Dr Mercurio makes some trenchant points: traditional medical school training is not well-geared to the practicalities of being a junior doctor; and hospitals have not been good at detecting (let alone correcting) weaknesses in the system that allow errors to be made. In these and other matters he has caught something of the Zeitgeist of the current NHS, which gives his book a topical bite. He does also have an ear for a truly poetic turn of phrase (the 'lithium wind' will stick in my memory for some time), and his prose is generally engaging.
The book inevitably invites comparison with 'The House of God', and unfortunately fares badly: it is as if Dr Mercurio has deliberately set out to write an NHS equivalent, and has succeeded so well that it might as well be a clone. It's all there: the worldly-wise role model, the suicidal colleague, the consultant obsessed with post-mortems and dress code, the wisecracks, the desperate sex (which becomes quite tedious eventually), even the semi-redemptive ending. 'Bodies' offers nothing new over its American predecessor, but is equally readable.
In short, to any aspiring doctor, medical student or interested layman, I'd say: read it by all means, but don't take it too seriously.
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on 24 May 2002
Anyone who saw "Cardiac Arrest" would have a good idea what to expect. This is incredibly accurate; it encapsulates the entire ethos of hospital life. I can't understand why other reviewers say it isn't true to life - maybe not every hospital all the time - but everything is verifiable, even down to patients being referred to by their condition. It happens! Utterly brilliant. If you don't like it, watch "Casualty" instead. Quick Nurse, the screens!
It's about time that Colin Douglas's books were reissued - along similar lines but lighter.
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on 30 January 2016
I could not put this down.Whether or not you agree with its jaundiced view of life of life on the front line for a freshly-qualified junior doctor, this is certainly a real page turner. And 'front line' is the most operative description of how it truly can be: the narrator, who is never named, gets no sleep, is confronted from one moment to the next with the sheer horror of what illness and old age can do to a body, alongside the surgical procedures he is expected to perform under duress. Gangrene of all your extremities within days of contracting meningitis. A family burnt alive in their home after a a hate attack. Pus, blood, poo - and the growing knowledge that no one is altogether infallible on this front line, and medical mistakes can and do happen.

Mistakes can and do happen because on the front line, presenteeism is pretty well expected if you wish to keep your job and colleagues protect each other, even where it may be obvious that some are incompetent. There is no emotional support where things go wrong in this world and to be a whistle blower will mean career suicide.

Revealing practices such as these already constitute blowing the whistle and it is to be hoped that reforms to ensure more adequate sleep for young doctors will remain in force. It is more than possible that this novels goes too far the other way and is actually too cynical - no doubt it is still better to go to hospital for an appendectomy rather than attempt to try it at home yourslf on the kitchen table after reading this for example, and the same must surely be true for a large number of other medical emergencies.

There is romance too, of a sort, and it is sometimes a wonder how the hero of this tale - or perhaps, anti-hero, manages to find the time to get the amount of nookie that he does. In the end, it seems hat the love of a good woman does allow the narrator to find his faith again - this is in part, a tale of redemption.

I would recommend his novel to those who do enjoy a medical novel - though perhaps, not to those who would not want to be divested of their more glamorous notions of what it may be like to actually work in a hospital as either a doctor or a nurse.
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on 30 March 2006
With the current crop of television soap operas ranging from the bathetic Holby City to the hyperbolic E.R., there is nothing in the media that truly reflects the nature of hospital medicine, nothing to tell it like it really is.
Welcome then, Jed Mercurio, a former doctor himself, delivering his own sharp commentary of life as a junior doctor at an NHS Hospital. With tones that clearly resonate of Samuel Shek's House of God, Mercurio offers readers a home brand of punchy writing with no less muck and grime.
Mercurio's nameless narrator journeys through the hospital, its corridors filled with corruption and cynicism, in search of an ideal world where patients improve and doctors romance nurses. Instead he encounters unbridled mendacity, botched medical errors and suffers his own relationship problems with his 'civilian' girlfriend. As readers, we gain insight into the narrator's internal moral, and emotion turmoil and see how this is translated not just physically (his childhood eczema resurfacing) but also into his work environment.
This book attempts to counter the deification of the medical profession and highlights the human nature of doctors, and how sometimes, even they make mistakes too. In an era of 'Fitness to Practise' it is also refreshing to see the author highlight the oft under mentioned issue of whistle-blowing.
On the upside, this book is a thoroughly entertaining yet chillingly accurate portrayal of less than perfect hospital life. With its easily accessible style, it serves as a potential warning to all medical students as to what the 'real world' of medicine is truly like, guts and all.
The only possible downside? It's been commissioned for a BBC Television Series
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I read this book recently, and half liked it. There's some good medicine in here, and some bad medicine, and some moral dilemmas that an ethics course could have fun unpicking. The negligent acts come one after each other- with no routine or competently managed cases in between. It's a bit like a novelised version of a medical defence organisation's case files. On TV shows such as Casualty, Holby City or Cardiac Arrest medicine's processes are speeded up and over emphasised. In a book Mercuiro could have taken a bit more time to consider and reflect, and maybe deepen the characters out a bit. The consultants in this book in particular have no background or subtlety to them.

There's classic "poor bloody infantry" cynicism around bad things happening. There's the feeling of an under supported and under-experienced front line of medicine. There's a feeling of survival under pressure- and feeling of fear and of being overwhelmed- which I remember well from my own days as a junior doctor in the early 1990s. There's a feeling of emotions being displaced- the frustration here going into gratuitous sex with the student nurse. But there's no depth to the story here. Why did the student nurse allow the relationship to go the way it did? What was her background? What were her fears?

This book does have some good messages- about mistakes, and how medicine as a system and how individual doctors cope with them and learn something from them. There's two bits to this- one is individuals making mistakes- but the bigger fear is how the system will respond to your mistakes, and whether it will support or just blame you. It's an issue that still isn't fully safely held and managed within the NHS yet.

And then there's the issue of owning up to mistakes and making amends- and this book shows processes are not ideal around this.

The book paints a picture of a dysfunctional and emotionally pathogenic culture in medicine, that damages both doctors and patients alike. There's some truth to this picture- but in this book it's presented a bit too broadly, and without mitigation. Most of the time the NHS staff and patients work reasonably well together and despite its complexity the system mostly works. Like all systems it has its flaws and rough edges, as do humans.

So this book poses some sharp questions, but without showing much in the way of understanding of people and characters. It shows anger, but without the full palate of other emotions to set it in context. It doesn't have the sharpness of Cardiac Arrest or the depth of the House of God. It lacks the gentle but sharply accurate humour of Doctor in the House.

It's an interesting book, but it doesn't fully earn its place amongst the great depictions of medical life.
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on 6 December 2005
I am a nursing sister of thirty years experience. On reading Bodies I felt as if Jed Mercurion had borrowed extracts from my nursing diary!
It was sureal. I too was a 'whistleblower' and was consequently 'suspended'on full pay 'pending investigation'. The reason for my suspension still remains unclear. Bodies is a fantastic read. I urge everyone to read this, whether they are an unsuspecting member of the public, some poor soul awaiting the start of their student training in nursing/medicine, or a fully qualified member of the Health Care Profession.
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on 6 June 2003
I bought this book as a bit of light holiday reading. Big mistake! Jed Mercurio tells his tale around the experiences of a medical graduate working for the first time in the real world of a bog standard hospital. It doesn't make for comfortable reading but it does provide an honest insight into the way the 'system' chews up and spits out tender young things. There is a great deal of uncomfortable detail provided and I came away with quite a bit of food for thought, even though I already knew some of it through my work. If you read this book then you will listen to politicians pontificating about the health service with a much more cynical expression on your face!
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on 16 August 2004
Bodies is written by an ex-doctor and boy does it show.... Totally gripping from page one - not only is it a really scary insight into a hospital doctor's life, but it's one of those can't put down sort of stories too. I love the dark humour but it's not just 'clever/clever' stuff. It's the sort of book that will win some sort of prestigious book prize but at the same time is totally readable - thanks to the central relationship the young doctor is having with a nurse and the almost 'thriller' like aspect of his whistle-blowing story.
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on 18 October 2014
Hmm. A book that is a poor immitator of House of God. It is beautifully written, and should be a core text used in schools for GCSE English Literature as it is a superb piece of twisting emotions and contrasting opinions and thoughts. But, from a medical perspective it seems to oevrly stretch some forms of realism in terms of the twisting knife that goes on in medicine. Indeed some things it highlights are true but it is clear that if this was Jed Mercurios reflective piece on his experience as a junior doctor that his mindset might not have been best matched to medicine (and is that perhaps why he left?). However, one has to acknowledge his honesty in extracting out some of the more uncomfortable pieces of medical practice that sadly did result in a well meaning consultant anaesthetist that exposed significant surgical failings in one hospital to get the boot to become only employable in Australia. That used to be medicine and in some fashion still is as that culture of fear regarding MMC, EWTD and Shape of Training and their understandable but almost all too predictable reflexive short term thinking goes unchallenged despite medicine having amongst the lowest morale in its history these days. A good book and brilliant in some regards as it sadly taps into our current morale problem, something Jed perhaps could not predict when he wrote the book.
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