The figurative langue of Henry Marsh

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I like to share interesting pieces of figurative language I encounter in my reading. I write today about a series of metaphors from neurosurgeon Henry Marsh….

Henry Marsh is a neurosurgeon, not a professional writer. But like many Renaissance Men, he seems able to turn his hand to many tasks. I very much enjoyed his 2014 memoir Do No Harm and found his approach both utterly frank and deeply compassionate. Celebrated for his neurosurgical work in Ukraine, Marsh became famous as the subject of the BBC documentary Your Life in Their Hands and, later, in the BBC Storyville film The English Surgeon.

Here are some examples of the metaphorical language from his book:

  • We sit in a semi-circle, a small group of a dozen or so consultants and junior doctors, looking as though we were on the deck of the Starship Enterprise.
  • Modern binocular operating microscopes are wonderful things and I am deeply in love with the one I use, just as any good craftsman is with his tools. It cost over one hundred thousand pounds and although it weights a quarter of a ton it is perfectly counter-balanced. Once in place, it leans over the patient’s head like an inquisitive, thoughtful crane.
  • I have not yet lost the naïve enthusiasm with which I watched that first aneurysm operation thirty years ago. I feel like a medieval knight mounting his horse and setting off in pursuit of a mythical beast.
  • Her family were devoted to her and, while thanking me effusively whenever I had seen them, would look at me with such an intensity of hope and desperation that their eyes felt like nail guns fixing me to the wall.
  • I shouted and cried and stupidly hit the steering wheel with my fists. And I felt shame, not at my failure to save his life — his treatment had been as good as it could be — but at my loss of professional detachment and what felt like the vulgarity of my distress compared to his composure and his family’s suffering, to which I could only bear impotent witness.
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