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by M. Colin Jordan

Pub Date: Jan. 15th, 2013
Publisher: Manuscript

In this engrossing memoir, a thoughtful physician battles baffling ailments—including a strange new malady called AIDS.

Jordan, a prominent infectious disease specialist, looks back on his first 20 years of teaching, research and clinical practice in the fast-changing medical universe of the 1960s to the 1980s. He’s an internist whose primary mission is the intellectual task of finding the correct diagnosis; he both disdains and envies “procedural” specialists, the gastroenterology types who grow rich performing routine colonoscopies. He centers much of his narrative on case studies that he approaches with the inquisitive cunning of a detective. These medical mysteries, which read like episodes of House without the snarky attitude, run the gamut: searching for the source of a restaurant outbreak of salmonella, figuring out what triggers a woman’s repeated herpes eruptions, playing a hunch that a patient’s apparently classic leukemia is really tuberculosis, struggling to understand the opportunistic infections that erupt in immunocompromised AIDS patients, etc. Jordan’s lucid, evocative prose—sometimes, as with the rupture of a pus-filled eyeball, almost too evocative—conveys both the complexity of medical issues and the life-and-death drama that hinges on them. He also gives readers a revealing insider’s view of the culture of medicine, showing the brutal, sleep-deprived grind of a student’s internship and residency, warm mentor–student relationships, tense personality clashes between doctors, hair-raising encounters with difficult and downright delusional patients, and the multifaceted strains of underpaid, overworked academic medicine. At one point, he feels so overwhelmed that he takes to reading Sylvia Plath. Jordan weaves into his anecdotes pointed commentary on the state of modern health care and its bottom-line orientation; he’s especially outspoken on the topics of physician incompetence and “sleazy medicine by money-hungry doctors” ringing up fees for unnecessary treatments. But there’s a philosophical depth to his writing as well, a plangent recognition of the importance of humility in the face of the often unknowable sickness.

White-knuckle medical adventures paired with revealing, expert insights.