A renowned neurologist examines some important questions: “[W]hat does it mean to be the patient faced with these seismic problems, and how is a connection made with the physician who embodies the knowledge that can make it better?”
Harvard Medical School professor and Brigham and Women’s Hospital master clinician Ropper and writer Burrell make an intellectual, sympathetic team: One brings the meat and potatoes to the table, the other, a measure of distance. They exhibit both a hungry curiosity and an elegant writing style married to the humbleness that comes from standing at the edge of the rabbit hole. The meat and potatoes are the individual cases that have crossed Ropper’s path and that the authors have framed into stories. These neurological tales shimmer and flash, a wily combination of Oliver Sacks and Berton Roueché, “through the painstaking examination of the patient. Every gesture, every movement, every inflection of speech, every reflex, all these point to the precise location of the problem in the nervous system.” Though a neurologist has to be well-acquainted with the design and function of the nervous system and use the latest technology, it’s also vitally important to “[s]tick with the patient’s story and the bedside exam.” Ropper’s patients range all over the place, from heroic to discomfiting to scary, and his predilection to neurological arcana makes for gripping material—as one patient recalled, “When they started…the hallucinations, what I saw first was Queen Elizabeth and her corgis in my fireplace…I also had Dick Tracy come by. He had a yellow overcoat. It was Warren Beatty.” The author explores a wide variety of conditions, including the exterior degeneration of ALS and the often befuddling symptoms of advanced brain trauma, but he rarely falls into jargon and always keeps the narrative lively and engaging.
Compassionate, useful reading related by an expert in his field.