REVIEW: The Angina Monologues: Stories of Surgery for Broken Hearts by Samer Nashef

In brief: The stories, good and bad, of being a cardiac surgeon in one of Britain’s top cardiology hospitals.

The good: Explained well and with no ego!

The not-so-good: Sometimes the outcomes are not what you would expect.

Why I chose it: Don’t mind a bit of cardiology in my life, thanks Scribe for the copy.

Year: 2019

Pages: 273

Publisher: Scribe

Rating: 10 out of 10

Medical non-fiction is a genre I really like to read, but you rarely see the reviews on my blog because it can be rather a niche interest. The Angina Monologues defies that – if you have a heart, you should read this book. It’s funny, sad, uplifting and hopeful. Samer Nashef’s writing style is easy for the lay person to understand (his description of how to do a heart transplant is unforgettable) but is also interesting to those who have some knowledge of cardiology.

The Angina Monologues is a reflection on the patients and stories that have made up Mr Nashef’s distinguished career. He is a cardiac surgeon at the Papworth Hospital in the UK, noted for its expertise in cardiology. He and his colleagues tackle the difficult cardiac surgeries, but it’s not the glamour of transplant that makes things difficult. It’s tricky CABGs (coronary artery bypass grafts) and connecting the patient up to the heart-lung machine. There are patients who have symptoms that don’t match what their heart looks like on the table and there are patients who have unexpected difficulties. Mr Nashef also details other stories from his career, such as the extreme differences between England’s NHS (similar to Australia’s Medicare) and the US system of excessive testing and litigation. He also describes a trip to perform cardiac surgery in the West Bank in Palestine that will leave you gasping. He tells of his successes, failures and just plain dumb moments (yes, even distinguished surgeons have them).

What I really enjoyed about The Angina Monologues is that it’s written in such a friendly, peer-to-peer/mate-to-mate style. There is absolutely no ego involved or excuses, nor the hierarchical style that continues to be a part of medicine. Mr Nashef is sharing his experiences warts and all, the good and the bad. He doesn’t pull any punches about his career, nor about the current state of the NHS and underfunding. You could be speaking to him in a pub or an elevator. He explains things clearly and in relatable ways that anyone can understand. In particular, I found the description of how a CABG and the heart-lung machine operate to make the most sense (above any textbook I’ve ever read). Same with the physiology of the heart’s arteries – simple and unforgettable.

Whether you work in medicine or are just interested in how heart problems can be corrected by surgery, this is a great read. I read this book in a couple of days because the stories were so varied and enthralling.

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