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  • Writer's pictureBruce Campbell MD

A Very Kind and Generous Review

Below is a book review by a South African anesthesiologist that was posted both to NetGalley and to her website, Barefoot Whispers.

A Fullness of Uncertain Significance [Book Review]

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.

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.

The subtitle to A Fullness is “Stories of Surgery, Clarity, and Grace," and it couldn’t be more accurate. But 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.

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