A young man comes into the emergency department every few weeks with mysterious air bubbles under his skin. An otherwise healthy adult male cannot shake the hiccups. A woman becomes partially paralyzed every time she gets pregnant. These are some of the curious cases that are presented in True Medical Detective Stories by Clifton K. Meador (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2012; 102 pp). Here are some representative quotes and claims from the book:
- "[Of psychogenic epidemics] One expert in the field states, 'The challenge is to convey the scientific reality without being seen as blaming or demeaning the victims.' Even though the nature of the illnesses may be solved, we do not have enough information about the correct way to manage mass psychogenic epidemics at the present time. Even after careful detective work, they remain as mysteries of the mind." (p31)
- "No one knows what instructions Dr. Kampmeier gave him, but Sam was never admitted again. No one ever knew what led Dr. Kampmeier to know Sam needed to make a confession. I wonder how many medical mysteries would be solved by full confessions." (p45)
- "The medical mystery with self-inflicted disease is not what these people to do harm themselves, but why. That mystery has not yet been solved." (p51)
- "The true detective interviews family members, seeking their observations. He inquires about pets, travels, work habits, personal beliefs, and so on. What in the life of the patient is causing the illness? Above all, the medical detective must listen carefully to the patient repeatedly. He does this until the patient becomes his or her own detective, making observations and correlations about the circumstances and surroundings of life." (p81)
True Medical Detective Stories is an enjoyable glimpse at some of the stranger cases that Dr. Clifton K. Meador he has encountered (personally or through colleagues) in his over fifty years of teaching and practicing medicine. Following in the tradition of medical writer Berton Roueche, Meador presents real-life stories from medical and epidemiological cases and explains how those apparent mysteries were solved. He closes each case with a few philosophical thoughts on what the experience can tell us about patients, medicine, disease, or man—the rational, and sometimes irrational—animal.
The cases and the book are so short (3-4 pages each, 102 pages in total) that it would be easy to spoil the best surprises. Suffice it to say that Meador explains, for instance, how extracting the details of a young man's sex life led to solving the man's case of subcutaneous air pockets and high fever. And how looking at a patient's eardrum cured that patient's uncontrollable hiccups. And how a lesson in geology explained one woman's recurring paralysis during pregnancy.
The author is succinct with clinical details, and he doesn't oversell the lessons learned. True Medical Detective Stories is a good, fast-paced pleasure read. It is not a deep exploration of medicine's mysteries and it won't become a genre classic, but it is a fun set of recollections that is worth the read.
Clifton K. Meador