Latest indie book review: True Medical Detective Stories by Clifton K. Meador, MD

SUMMARY (from amazon): Modern technology has given rise to electronic medical records, remote monitoring systems, and satellite-enabled real-time examinations in which patient and physician might be separated by thousands of miles. Yet, when it comes to diagnosing difficult cases, the clinician’s strongest asset might just be one of the oldest tools of the medical profession—careful listening. True Medical Detective Stories is a compendium of nineteen true-life medical cases, each solved by clinical deduction and facilitated by careful listening. These accounts present puzzling low-tech cases—most of them serious, some humorous—that were solved either at the bedside or by epidemiological studies.

ScienceThrillers REVIEW: True Medical Detective Stories is not a unique contribution to the genre of true medical tales but it is a worthy one. This slender volume (82 pages, 18 short cases) is an intriguing read, ideally structured for the bedtime reader who wants to get in a few pages a night. Each case tells a story of a patient who comes to the medical system with a problem not readily explained. In each case, Meador shows the reader how the doctors and nurses involved stumble on an explanation (which sometimes allows them to solve the patient’s problem).

It’s the explanations that fascinate. Meador’s chosen cases highlight bizarre behaviors and unexpected details in a patient’s personal story that lead to a diagnosis. This makes his book different from some other medical mysteries out there, such as Lisa Sanders’ “Diagnosis” series for the New York Times. True Medical Detective Stories is more folksy than technical and has broad appeal; on the other hand, the Diagnosis series emphasizes true biological oddities that (in general) only medically-sophisticated readers can figure out.

For example, Meador encounters patients who suffer strange consequences from their use of household pesticides, from cultural habits of food preparation, and a number of episodes that involve fixed (but incorrect) beliefs influencing health to the point of near-death. In Meador’s experience, the mind-body connection is truly strong.

Dr. Meador cites Berton Roueché as a major influence. Berton Roueché was famous for his “invention” of the medical detective genre while writing for The New Yorker for fifty years. I haven’t read Roueché; here’s one of his books if you’re interested: The Medical Detectives (Truman Talley).

Meador changes names and other details to conceal identities. In a chapter on voodoo, I was mildly disturbed to read that a person involved explicitly demanded that the physician tell no one, yet here I was reading the person’s story, albeit anonymously. Meador manufactures dialog to convey information, making for stilted quotes/conversations. But the reader gets the point. His writing is suffused with a nostalgic quality for times when health care workers relied more on listening to their patients and less on hi-tech imaging procedures.

Based on the tales he tells in this book, a lot of patients could benefit from that kind of  “whole person” medical care.

Thumbs up on True Medical Detective Stories for a general audience or medical professionals. Like the sound of it? Enter to win a copy of this book below.

If you are interested in the power of the placebo effect and other mind-body relationships, read this book and also the relevant chapter in Bad Science by Ben Goldacre.

FCC disclaimer: A free copy of this book was given to me by the author for review. As always, I made no guarantee that I would read the book or post a positive review.

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