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War Doctor: Surgery on the Front Line Paperback – 21 Feb 2019
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|Paperback, 21 Feb 2019||
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The gripping true story of a frontline trauma surgeon in the world's most dangerous war zones.
From the Back Cover
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 war zones. From Sarajevo under siege in 1993, to clandestine hospitals in rebel-held eastern Aleppo, he has carried out life-saving operations and field surgery in the most challenging conditions, and with none of the resources of a major London teaching hospital.
The conflicts he has worked in form a chronology of twenty-first century combat: Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Darfur, Congo, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Gaza and Syria. But he has also volunteered in areas blighted by natural disasters, such as the earthquakes in Haiti and Nepal.
Driven both by compassion and passion, the desire to help others and the thrill of extreme personal danger, he is now widely acknowledged to be the most experienced trauma surgeon in the world. But as time has gone on, David Nott began to realize that flying into a catastrophe – whether war or natural disaster – was not enough. Doctors on the ground needed to learn how to treat the appalling injuries that war inflicts upon its victims. Since 2015, the foundation he set up with his wife, Elly, has disseminated the knowledge he has gained, training other doctors in the art of saving lives threatened by bombs and bullets.
War Doctor is his extraordinary story.
'So powerful and honest. Extraordinary.' Elizabeth Buchan, author of The New Mrs Clifton and I Can't Begin to Tell You
'Brave, compassionate and inspiring – it left me in floods of tears.' Adam Kay, author of This Is Going to HurtSee all Product description
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The author is candid about his own involvement in various theatres of war and medicine without boasting. He is modest without adopting false modesty. The plight of various patients, especially children, is his prime concern, but we get a clear insight into his own psychological trauma's course and causes. His political and diplomatic skills, deployed with colleagues and bureaucrats, are an essential part of his story and are recorded here modestly and prosaicly. His respect and admiration for his fellow war-arena doctors is unbounded and sincere.
David Nott treats the subject with the seriousness it deserves; but there is one brief moment of levity when he returns to normal UK clinic life straight after the hell of Aleppo and is consulted by a patient with relatively trivial vascular problems. His cover up of his response to the patient lightens the mood briefly.
I can't find a fault with this. Moving, informative and intimate. Prime candidate for biography of the year.
I have met surgeons in training at my workplace and I have found them to be characterised by great skill and confidence. They share, in common with other elites, a sense that they can acquire, through hard work and refined practice, a mastery of their field. They have that special 'something'. It shows quite early. I have seen a 19 yr old woman student at a London teaching hospital prepare for her class on a cadaver in the dissection room with such thoroughness and commitment that staff backed away and let her teach her small group of classmates on her own. We knew that she would become a surgeon. She is.
David Nott is driven by that same commitment to use his knowledge for a higher purpose. Near the end of the book he describes the case of a young woman commuter with grave injuries who became his surgical patient shortly after he qualified as a consultant at Charing Cross. His commitment to saving her was astounding, he decided that "she would not die on my watch". After a long operation he visited her each few hours throughout the next day to change the gauze packings around her wounds.
Dr. Nott goes on to take a route that most of us would be careful to avoid, by visiting war zones to offer his help to the injured and brutalised in the most dangerous places imaginable. Like the neurosurgeon Dr. Henry Marsh, who wrote 'Do No Harm', he knows his limitations and is always seeking to broaden his repertoire of skills to make himself more useful to others. His description of an operation to help a contract worker in Afghanistan, who was shot in the abdomen by a sniper's high velocity round, is awe-inspiring.
Dr. Nott is justly angry at the western superpowers for washing their hands of responsibility for awful suffering caused in part by their callous indifference to wars that no longer interest them.
This remarkable doctor has dedicated his life to helping patients with the most serious wounds in war zones as diverse as the Congo, Libya, the Balkans, Afghanistan and Syria.
This is essential life-affirming reading.
In thirteen chapters he describes the treatment by surgery of members of the armed forces and civilians injured in warfare. Today, the weapons used inflict dreadful damage on the body. Even simple ones like personnel mines damage the victim horribly. A trauma surgeon in a war zone faces challenges that he would never encounter in peacetime. The author has spent more than twenty years volunteering to go to dangerous places in order to help war victims.
He has worked, for example, in Afghanistan, the Congo, Libya and Syria. Some surgery has had to be done in unhygienic and poorly equipped front line austere environments. He points out the evil of deliberately bombing hospitals. In Syria ninety per cent of hospital bombings have been carried out by the Syrian and Russian governments. He has been to Syria three times since 2012. Those trips to a country ravaged by civil war have changed his life. He admits that despite being a consultant at three major hospitals in London he cannot resist a call to help in a humanitarian crisis overseas.
To do this he takes unpaid leave. On his first trip to Syria after the current war broke out Nott discovered the parlous and corrupt nature of government-run hospitals. Wounded protesters were often taken away from wards to be tortured and killed. Amputations were carried out as a form of punishment. Medical workers who opposed Assad suffered the same fate. His description of the wounds he had to treat is heart breaking and disturbing.
We should all be grateful that doctors like David Nott exist. Certainly many more would die in war zones were it not for people like him.
There is a very interesting afterword by Eleanor Nott.