When Dr. Bruce H. Campbell first set foot in a hospital as a seventeen-year-old nursing assistant, he observed the best and the worst of doctors, hospitals, and the entire health care team. These lessons returned to him and shaped his own journey as he became a surgeon. Through these well-crafted, poignant, sometimes funny, and always insightful stories, he shares what his patients and their families shared, having never forgotten what it felt like to be a beginner.
I loved reading this book
If a medical doctor pens a memoir, I will read it.
I don’t care if they are a surgeon (uneasy relationship), a physician (intimidatingly book smart), or an anaesthetist (well that’s pretty close to home). Even if nobody else reads your book, I will be your audience of one.
But A Fullness of Uncertain Significance by Bruce H. Campbell (MD FACS) deserves so much more than an audience of one.
The subtitle to "A Fullness" is “Stories of Surgery, Clarity, and Grace”, and it couldn’t be more accurate. It is grace that shines brightest of all.
Medicine is a world of ego. Whether we have it, or we simply try to “fake it til we make it”, medical memoirs often take on a subtle air of importance. It may be hard-won, but it is unmissable.
Campbell, meanwhile, is certainly one of the humblest doctors I have ever had the pleasure to read.
"The capacity to give one’s attention to a sufferer is a very rare and difficult thing; it is almost a miracle; it is a miracle."
The vignettes in "A Fullness" have no trace of judgment. No excuses, no thinly veiled justifications for “unpopular opinions”. Just acceptance and care of the person in front of him. Whether they have come in fresh off the street with nobody to support them, or they arrive with a supportive family in tow.
Unique to Campbell’s memoir is his views on the road to medicine and modern medical training. Any doctor can be “nice” to their patients, but their character is shown in how they interact with their trainees.
"And it would take me years to unlearn that when a surgeon notices a student’s distress, it is apparently just fine to smirk, say nothing, and go on your way."
It is shown in how they reflect on their own training, and their growth in training others.
"[…] many students become physicians without the benefit of ceremonies or signposts to mark the accumulating moments that separate them from their future patients. They continue their nearly imperceptible transformation."
Campbell writes like one who thinks earnestly – ever-reflective, never immovable in his views, never impenetrable to change; fully aware that the future requires growth and healing.
"I see in a new way that, as a late-career, white male surgeon “authority figure” who grew up in a certain time and place, bringing my own preconceptions to every experience can spread as much harm is it can light."
This is the kind of humility I wish to see in all doctors. Many medical memoirs serve to inspire doctors early in their careers, but this is one that I hope can also encourage those in the middle, and even near the end, of their careers.
My only criticism is that the cover of A Fullness is unassuming to its own disadvantage. I’m not sure it will catch the browsing readers’ eye, and I want it to.
I can’t recommend this book enough. Add it to your list, today.
"I have watched the rock face rush past me. I have sensed the rustle of air racing through feathers."
Disclaimer: I received a free eGalley via NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
“The awe of discovering the human body. The honor of being trusted to give advice. The gratitude for helping someone through a difficult illness. These things never grow old.”
― Danielle Ofri, MD via The New York Times
Dr Campbell started his long medical journey as an orderly at a local hospital during his downtime from college. His book “A Fullness of Uncertain Significance: Stories of Surgery, Clarity, & Grace” chronicles his passage through his personal life, school, and medicine. The book is a series of short vignettes chronically different aspects of his long career as a head and neck surgeon. Here, we witness his first exposure to surgery to his work in Africa (working alongside his son who, at the time, was a medical student) to his interactions with his patients. All his stories are driven by a sense of purpose, humility, and an understanding of what it is to be a doctor.
I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the more personal aspects of medicine, especially between doctor and patient.
Dr Campbell just recently retired from medicine, but not from writing and in fact, will be continuing his musings on his own website: https://www.brucecampbellmd.com/. I look forward to reading about what he thinks about retirement. I’ll bet it will be as interesting as his medical career.
[Thank you to NetGalley and the author for the advanced ebook copy in exchange for my honest and objective opinion which I have given here.]
I enjoyed the introspective snippets of the author’s emotional world. The writing is zen like, full of awareness, giving significance to moments. The author himself is a doctor with his heart in the right place. It was a pleasurable read.
I enjoy medical memoirs so much! This book consists of many short stories of different patients that surgeon Bruce H. Campbell has operated on. I found them all very interesting and I especially appreciated the compassion and care that Dr. Campbell has showed throughout his career.
This book was right up my alley. I love anything to do with nursing, patient doctor relationship, learning about medical illness but most of all compassion between nurse/doctor/surgeon and patient! I really enjoyed his stories from his nursing days to doctor/surgeon days that were so interesting, insightful and many times a bit humorous! Such a different book and one I really enjoyed!
I highly recommend it!
Dr. Bruce Campbell’s book, A Fullness of Uncertain Significance, is receiving high praise from people in the medical profession, as well as writers and readers. This book is definitely one that should be included in any curriculum designed for surgeons. But we are all potential patients. Chances are that, at some point, someone in our family will place their life in the hands of a surgeon. We would all benefit from reading these “Stories of Surgery, Clarity, and Grace.” Contained within the pages of A Fullness of Uncertain Significance, are stories about life and death, success and failure, hope and more hope. Always hope. The narrative is written by a surgeon, but the stories are not about him. The stories are about how his patients face their treatment with grace and courage.
A wonderful book allowing the reader an inside look at patients from the doctor's point of view. This doctor happens to be one with a fantastic bedside manner who has an uncanny knack for being able to truly see his patients and find the one thing that allows him to connect. When families tend to take over, answering the doctor's questions, the doctor refocuses the appointment on the patient to get their story and in the process makes them feel important and in charge. Everyone should have a physician like this at lease once.