Breaking & Mending – Joanna Cannon

I learned that returning a life to someone very often has nothing to do with restoring a heartbeat.

In this memoir, Joanna Cannon invites readers to experience key moments of her time in medical school and as a junior doctor. This quick read has short chapters but they provide insights on her highs and lows, as well as the patients that have stayed with her. I found her writing style engaging and I could easily picture what Joanna was describing.

Burnout is an unlikely phrase, because it implies that the effects are loud and obvious, raging like a fire for everyone to see.

Most burnout, however, is quiet and remains unseen. It exists behind a still and mirrored surface, deep, out of reach, unnoticed by everyone – even, sometimes, by the one who is burning.

While some of the factors that contributed to her ‘breaking’ are fairly clear in my mind, the details of the ‘mending’ remain fairly vague to me. Sure, I know that being able to work in psychiatry, which was the reason Joanna was in medical school in the first place, was integral to her recovery. However, unlike the lead up to her burnout, the recovery process didn’t really come alive on the page for me.

I was impressed by Joanna’s ability to hold on to her compassion, even as her work as a junior doctor was taking a physical and psychological toll on her. What I will take away from this read, though, is the kindness and courage of so many of her patients, despite their circumstances.

Content warnings include mention of death by suicide, mental health and self harm.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

“A few years ago, I found myself in A&E. 

I had never felt so ill. I was mentally and physically broken. So fractured, I hadn’t eaten properly or slept well, or even changed my expression for months. I sat in a cubicle, behind paper-thin curtains and I shook with the effort of not crying. I was an inch away from defeat … but I knew I had to carry on. 

Because I wasn’t the patient. I was the doctor.”

In this powerful memoir, Joanna Cannon tells her story as a junior doctor in visceral, heart-rending snapshots. 

We walk with her through the wards, facing extraordinary and daunting moments: from attending her first post-mortem, sitting with a patient through their final moments, to learning the power of a well or badly chosen word. These moments, and the small sustaining acts of kindness and connection that punctuate hospital life, teach her that emotional care and mental health can be just as critical as restoring a heartbeat.

In a profession where weakness remains a taboo, this moving, beautifully written book brings to life the vivid, human stories of doctors and patients – and shows us why we need to take better care of those who care for us.