An intriguing account of 19 medical mysteries and the true-life medical detectives who solved them.
Over his 50-plus years of practicing medicine, Meador (Puzzling Symptoms, 2010, etc.) has seen many unusual illnesses that defied traditional diagnosis. In his latest book, he recounts the most fascinating—and downright bizarre—of these cases, in which patients experienced troubling medical symptoms with no apparent cause. The cases involve both Meador’s and others doctors’ patients. All, however, are solved using the same method: medical deduction rooted in careful listening. The book begins with a dedication to the late Berton Roueché, who popularized the medical-detective genre as a staff writer for the New Yorker. The first chapter, “Dr. Jim’s Breasts,” revisits an interesting case involving a 76-year-old man who suffers from the ailment of the title. Without giving away the ending, through much inquiry, the cause of the man’s breast enlargement is discovered—and it is a curious cause indeed. This and other cases illuminate a consistent theme, which is that patients, with a doctor’s guidance, are often their own best medical detectives. In the chapter “Two Cases of Pneumonia: Two Different Causes,” two unexplained incidents of chronic pneumonia are solved by an infectious disease specialist who teases out patient histories with careful listening and questioning and by “involving a family member in the search for clues.” Other chapters, such as “A Paradoxical Suicide Attempt” and “A Near Death from Hexing,” provide striking examples of the mind’s ability to create profound physiological responses and the need for physicians to take this into account. The author’s suspenseful, Sherlock Holmes-esque retelling of each case will keep the pages turning. But this is more than just a collection of entertaining anecdotes. In an age of technology-driven, impersonal medical care, Meador provides a powerful reminder of the need for meaningful dialogue between doctors and patients.
In a world of high-tech medical care, Meador makes a compelling argument for the simplest of diagnostic tools—listening to a patient.