Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science by Atul Gawande is a very engaging and enjoyable book about Gawande’s experiences as a medical resident, grouped by chapters on fallibility, mystery and uncertainty. In many of the cases, mystery and fear of fallibility contribute greatly to the uncertainty.
As with some other specialized fields, outsiders looking in often assume medical doctors very rarely makes mistakes, fully understand their current problems and are supremely confident in their decision making. Though I am nowhere near the level of Dr. Gawande in my field of software engineering, I think others believe I make fewer mistakes, know more about all of my work and am more certain of my decisions than I actually am, so it was reassuring to hear his stories. There’s a fine line between humility and self awareness on one side and Impostor Syndrome on the other.
The book weakened just over halfway in, especially in the chapters on vomiting and blushing. Mary Roach would have done those topics better justice. But Gawande pulled the book together strongly in the final section on uncertainty, especially the final chapter.
I definitely recommend this book if, like me, you wish you knew more about the day to day life and work of a surgeon. Gawande is a fantastic writer and chronicler of his profession.