Review: Ben Bravery – The Patient Doctor

The Patient Doctor
Ben Bravery

“At the age of twenty-eight, with his Beijing-based science communications business doing well and a new relationship blossoming, Ben Bravery woke from a colonoscopy to be told he had stage 3 colorectal cancer…. Now, driven by his experience on both sides of the healthcare system, this patient-turned-doctor gives a no-holes-barred account of how he overcame the trauma of his illness to study medicine and shares what he believes student doctors, doctors, patients and their families need to do to ensure that the medical system puts the patient at the very heart of healthcare every day.”

Hmm, this was an interesting book, but not an outstanding one. While it was interesting to see the way that Ben-as-a-patient affected Ben-as-a-medical-student, it wasn’t anything particularly new to me. I also already had some pretty in-depth knowledge about how broken the medical system is in Australia.

The medical training provided to doctors in Australia is good in some ways (covers a lot of important information, very physiology/anatomy based) but bad in others. It seems to pay lip service to making compassionate great communicators out of doctors. As Ben exposes again in his book, there’s just so much crammed in and an idea that providing patient-centred care will take longer in a workplace where doctors are already overwhelmed.

It was fascinating to me that I saw the changing hospital/specialist centre size from both a patient (this book) and a nurse (A Caring Life) perspective. I also find it of interest because we usually assume that larger medical clinics will be better specialised to help people, even if this isn’t necessarily accurate. I felt that Ben’s attitude and understanding of his condition (and the humour he had to offer) was impacted by doctors the most. Now I’ll be waiting for a fully-fledged doctor’s thoughts on the system at the time!

I’d love to see a memoir or non-fiction from a higher up hospital administrator who is responsible for some of the funding and why student doctors / specialists / surgeons / every medical professional in the system are so overworked. I’m all for making sure doctors aren’t unemployed, but being underemployer or overworked is not good enough.

I am grateful that I live in Australia and healthcare is free. That’s reason enough that I might just be happiest with whoever I see in a hospital. What Ben advocates and encourages through his book is for patients and their families to feel confident speaking up for themselves. That’s something easier said than done, but I think it could be done.

I’d recommend this for readers interested in what it looks like to be a complicated cancer patient and the beginning trials of medical school. There’s some humour to keep it light, even if overall I think the book is a picture of the complicated nature of healthcare in Australia.

Hachette | 29 June 2022 | AU$32.99 | paperback

Review: Anna Kent – Frontline Midwife

Frontline Midwife
My Story of Survival and Keeping Others Safe
Anna Kent

“Anna Kent has delivered babies in war zones, caring for the most vulnerable women in the most vulnerable places in the world… In Frontline Midwife, Kent shares her extraordinary experiences as a nurse, midwife and mother, illuminating the lives of women that are irreparably affected by compromised access to healthcare. This is at once an astonishing story of the realities of frontline humanitarian work, and a powerful reminder of the critical, life-giving work of nurses and doctors at home and around the world.”

Nurses work bloody hard. Every novel, every book I read, I know that nurses work very hard for sometimes very little reward. My mother was a nurse in aged care and I understood how hard it was for her to deal with patients dying every shift. For Anna to be able to keep her head above water and to keep working as a midwife even with all the avoidable deaths is amazing all by itself.

Anna’s storytelling is spot on, and it makes for compulsive reading even if you know what the ending is. She manages to personalise all of the women she meets even as you know she is protecting their identities. It’s unsurprising that Anna suffers from PTSD and I am grateful and humbled by Anna’s willingness to share it with the world.

I would swear to you that I reviewed this book, but perhaps I did it only in my head. I certainly felt quite strongly positive about it while reading it, even if I found some of the messages to be mixed.

My problem with this book is that it is assumed that all women will want to have children. Kent recounts the story of triplets being born and wonders what their mother will do when she learns she can’t have more children. Um, isn’t three enough? Or, you know, she might like to do something else with her life rather than just produce children – she’s not going to die in childbirth at least. Perhaps she will be able to get an education? Perhaps she can be a local midwife.

I felt the same way about the woman who had had multiple miscarriages and then lost her husband right before successfully birthing a child. How will she provide for herself? How can you bare to bring up a person in poverty like that? Of course, it’s not the woman’s fault, or Anna’s fault – it’s a humanitarian crisis that shouldn’t exist but does because of the wealth disparity in the world. Please don’t interpret this review as a critique of who should be ‘allowed’ to have children – that’s another whole problem in itself.

Australians should feel blessed that Anna Kent has told this raw, honest story and also given a careful look into what Doctors without Borders can look like in practice. We don’t all need to be midwives, but we can all use more compassion. Buy this book for anyone who needs their eyes opened to the horrific realities that we still face in 2022. Buy it because you’re curious to know what it looks like in the war torn countries of the world. buy it because it’s ultimately a human story that we have all been part of.

Bloomsbury | 31st May 2022 | AU$29.99 | paperback