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And Other True Tales of Medical Detection

by Berton Roueché

Pub Date: May 15th, 1995
ISBN: 0-525-93934-2
Publisher: Dutton

 Eight brief chronicles of medical detection by the late RouechÇ (Sea to Shining Sea, 1986, etc.), whose ``Annals of Medicine'' pieces in the New Yorker established him as a master of the genre. Readers familiar with RouechÇ's work will know just what to expect here and will not be disappointed. Patients' identities are concealed, but the doctors are identified, and RouechÇ's style of quoting them at length gives his accounts authenticity and immediacy. What's remarkable is the variety of cases he explores. In the title story, the puzzle to be solved is the sudden growth of breasts in a male patient in his 70s. Surprisingly, it is the patient's wife, not his doctor, who comes up with the solution. ``The Dinosaur Collection'' features a case of Munchausen's Syndrome (the faking of illness), the twist here being that the deception is perpetrated not by the patient but by his mother. ``Cinnabar'' and ``A Good Safe Tan'' deal with the known and unknown poisons in our midst. The first features an artist repairing an ancient tapestry, and the second, a young girl who consumes what she believes is a harmless vegetable dye in the hopes of acquiring a glorious tan. Vanity also comes into play in ``Hoping,'' in which a young woman's desire for slim thighs leads her to a hospital emergency room. A doctor working in a little-known specialty, the medical problems of musicians, is the chief sleuth in ``Overdoing It.'' ``The Poker Room'' is a classic RouechÇ detection piece involving an outbreak of Q fever, a long-running poker game, and a litter of kittens. The final piece, ``Hoofbeats of a Zebra,'' demonstrates that sometimes when one hears hoofbeats, it is not the common horse that should be expected, but the uncommon zebra, i.e., the rare disease. A great treat for fans of medical lore.