I’ve just seen a fascinating documentary The English Surgeon directed by Geoffrey Smith about an English neurosurgeon, Henry Marsh, who volunteers his considerable skill to help the people of Ukraine. Ukraine has suffered from years of neglect in health-care, and many of the patients that Marsh attends to are often at a stage where operating may not be helpful to them. He’s assisting his Ukrainian colleague Igor Kurilets to build his expertise and knowledge, and Kurilets is seen in the film using this as his inspiration and foundation to plan building his own hospital. Marsh talks about hope being a very important gift that he can give his patients, especially those with little to look forward to, but it was clear he was also handing this hope to Kurilets that one day he will have the skill, the staff and the equipment to treat patients effectively.
There are many very moving scenes in the film, including Marsh visiting the family of a girl who died many years previously. Marsh shows a lot of humility and he’s very aware of his own mortality and that of his patients and what he can realistically achieve with limited resources in a country that is still incredibly impoverished.
There is one dramatic moment when Marsh is operating to remove a tumour from a patient with epilepsy and his patient reports having a fit. It’s a terrifying moment to watch, but thankfully has a positive outcome. During the same operation, it was fascinating to watch as the patient moved his right arm, sometimes voluntarily, but at other times due to an electrode touching his brain.
Marsh expressed his thoughts about how our personalities and our thoughts are contained within the brain, and he quoted a statement I’ve always agreed with “we are our brains”.
This is a beautiful film to watch and it also has a wonderful soundtrack composed by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis.