The Ministry of Bodies: A Year of Life and Death in a Modern Hospital by Seamus O’Mahony

‘To practise medicine is to have a permanent feeling that you’ve forgotten something.’

Dr Seamus O’Mahony, now retired, writes of what life is really like for a medical professional, a consultant gastroenterologist, in a large teaching hospital in Cork, in Ireland. He writes of an impossible caseload, of departmental boundaries, of life and death. He writes about everything that is good or bad, and sometimes just plain ugly, in the health industry where expectations far outstrip resources.

‘Is there anything more useless than good intentions?’

And, like most bureaucracies, where demand for services outstrip supply, complex rules have been developed which often make it even more difficult to obtain (or to provide) treatment. It is made more difficult by the complexity of humans: those reluctant to seek treatment, those unable to comply with treatment and those unable to obtain treatment. There were so many instances of people whose illnesses are a consequence of lifestyle choices, and of those stoic people who suffer in silence for far too long.

Dedicated doctors and nurses burn out: unable to reconcile ideals with reality, unable to back up from endless shifts with insufficient resources. And then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

‘I retired on 7 February 2020, the day before my sixtieth birthday.’

Read this book and weep. Weep for the professionals sacrificed, for their suffering patients and the lives lost. How can we improve? I doubt that the answer is simply more resources, it will be more complex than that.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Head of Zeus for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith