A collection of many real-life medical detective stories, this book is not as sensational as the title suggests. The main takeaway I had from it is that diagnosis is an art as well as a science. It also suggested to me that the American standard of healthcare is apparently perfect and that everyone gets seen quickly by whichever specialist they want. There were only two mentions of patients not wanting to go to hospital, on account of not having medical insurance. The book therefore had the side effect – unintended perhaps – of demonstrating the inequality of healthcare in the US. I would assume that patients who are able to pay more for it are more likely to have their ‘baffling medical mysteries’ solved.
The book is in themed sections according to what main symptom the patients had, such as headache, abdominal pain, shortness of breath, etc. Each very short chapter describes what happened to the patient and how the medical professionals arrived at the diagnosis and treatment. The best part of each chapter was when it was revealed that the patient recovered and is doing well (which happened in all cases but one). I’m afraid it sounds quite dull to put it this way, but the engagement with the reader was equally dull. On the other hand, I found the book to be educational and even a refreshing change from the horror stories you often get in medical memoirs. Dr Sanders’ book is not a memoir, so it has a different focus. We learn about diagnosis – ruling things out, not making assumptions, asking around for colleagues’ opinions, listening to the patient, researching the literature, etc. Some of the cases turn out to be very rare conditions while others are surprisingly ordinary but have been overlooked due to other circumstances obscuring the diagnosis.
First published in 2019.