Tales of Real Medical Detection

Book cover for Jonathan A. Edlow M.D.So, I was perusing reviews the other day and came across a review of The Deadly Dinner Party and Other Medical Detective Stories by Jonathan A. Edlow M.D. I could not believe that I had missed this book. 

I am a sucker for programs like House, Dr. G., Medical Examiner,  Mystery Diagnosis — you get the picture. Things like these just fascinate me so I hurried over to the shelf and was happy to find the book there. I settled in with the book (over lunch, I might add) and I was not disappointed.

Although the book jacket advert bills it as E.R. and House M.D. meet Sherlock Holmes, I found that to be somewhat of an overstatement. In fact, if it did fit that bill it might be a bit cheesy. It is actually a low key but very engaging volume of fifteen medical detective stories written by a practicing physician and Harvard professor.

In the first story, from which the book takes its title, a stomach bug turns a suburban dinner party into a disaster that almost kills its host. In another a young business executive is diagnosed with what appears to be lung cancer, but the nodules on his lungs wax and wane (along with his symptoms) and no one can figure out what is causing his illness. Still another gives the account of several patients in the same area of Massachusetts who present with different symptoms and are of varying ages but all have dangerously elevated calcium and vitamin D levels. The trick is to find what they all have in common.

Dr. Edlow goes through these cases, explaining complex medical concepts in a manner that the intelligent lay reader can readily understand. He gives insight into how doctors go about solving difficult medical cases — the detective part of the job — and along the way relates some of the history of various treatments and medical history in general. If you like your medical stories based in reality and can suspend a hypochondriac’s tendency to ‘catch’ illnesses as you read about them, give this one a try.