The Matter of the Heart: A History of the Heart in Eleven Operations by Thomas Morris - review by Manjit Kumar

Manjit Kumar

The Beat Goes On

The Matter of the Heart: A History of the Heart in Eleven Operations


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In April 2013, I underwent one the most successful and routinely performed operations in surgical history: a coronary artery bypass graft. I call it a triple heart bypass, but in medical jargon it’s known as a CABG, pronounced ‘cabbage’.

In researching this fascinating and compelling book on the history of heart surgery, the journalist Thomas Morris was allowed into the operating theatre to watch a surgeon perform a bypass. He describes how the surgeon picked up a pair of scissors and, in one smooth motion, severed the aorta, the artery that carries oxygenated blood from the heart to the rest of the body. Morris was ‘taken aback by the insouciance with which she had cut the heart loose from its moorings’.

As I read Morris’s book, there were moments when I couldn’t help but picture myself as the one being operated on. What is unnerving about the severing of the aorta that Morris describes so vividly and elegantly is that it’s the point of no return, when the patient’s life is

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