Critical by Dr Matt Morgan

I’ve been feeling the need to expand my reading horizons lately so I read Critical: Science and stories from the brink of human life by Dr Matt Morgan. I received a review copy via NetGalley. Here is the synopsis:

Being critically ill means one or more of your vital organs have failed – this could be your lungs, your heart, your kidneys, gut or even your brain. Starting with the first recognised case in which a little girl was saved by intensive care in 1952 in Copenhagen, Matt writes brilliantly about the fascinating history, practices and technology in this newest of all the major medical specialties. Matt guides us around the ICU by guiding us around the body and the different organs, and in this way, we learn not only the stories of many of the patients he’s treated over the years, but also about the various functions different parts of the body.  

He draws on his time spent with real patients, on the brink of death, and explains how he and his colleagues fight against the odds to help them live. Happily many of his cases have happy endings, but Matt also writes movingly about those cases which will always remain with him – the cases where the mysteries of the body proved too hard to solve, or diagnoses came too late or made no difference to the outcome.

OK, so perhaps my describing reading Critical as expanding my reading horizons is a bit of a stretch given that I do enjoy memoirs and particularly medical memoirs but it is different to everything I’ve been reading over the last few months.

Critical was a really interesting read. I had expected more of a standard medical memoir – lots of patient stories and a fair amount about Matt Morgan as a person. Instead we a bit about Matt, some patient stories and a lot of technical information that was well written and easy to follow as a layperson.

I found myself really enjoying the technical bits, especially the history related ones. I was fascinated by the story of Vivi, the little girl in Copenhagen who the first intensive care unit was created for. Reading about the how and whys of the workings of an ICU was also eyeopening.

There is a good balance between all the different aspects of this book, although it might not be the one for you if your interest in memoirs is just about the people. If, however you like a book you can get your teeth stuck into and that makes you think without being stuffy or overly academic then Critical is definitely worth a look. Although different to what I expected from the genre it’s a welcome edition and the time spent reading it was well spent.

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