Every Patient Tells a Story: Medical Mysteries and the Art of Diagnosis, by Lisa Sanders, a doctor who's the consultant for House (I am sure she is not to blame for its inaccuracies, though), is a solid, readable book about... well, exactly what it says on the tin, but with the most attention paid to the physical exam, which according to Sanders is a dying art in America. I still think the best book on the subject is Atul Gawande's Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science, which reaches the heights of fine literature, but Sanders's book is informative and worth reading if you're interested in the subject.

Every Patient Tells a Story: Medical Mysteries and the Art of Diagnosis

Arthur E. Hertzler's The Horse and Buggy Doctor (Bison Book) is more of general interest, assuming that medical details don't make you turn green and then faint. He wrote it in 1938, looking back on his long career as an American doctor, and the first chapter looks even farther back, to medicine as it was practiced in his boyhood (the 1880s).

This is well worth reading for two reasons: the content is fascinating and eye-opening, even if you already have a decent background in medical history, and Hertzler's style is unique, oddball, literate, grumpy, and vivid. He has a way with deliberately stilted and roundabout phrasing that cracked me up.

To return to the female complaints. One may divide them into two general classes: the female complaints and the male complaints. The former include those due to maladjustments between the biologic and the ethical. Male complaints, on the other hand, are those in which man is the aggravating factor or, maybe, the regressive factor. These are subtle things which only doctors can hope to understand.


The more intimate relations between doctor and patient have never before been discussed in print, but I am going to come nearer to doing so than has yet been done. Only an old doctor who has lived with people knows this relationship…. The more nearly the doctor's experience of life has paralleled the patient's before him, the better he is able to understand that patient. The tragedies of literature are silly things; they must be made simple and obvious or else they will not be understood. Shakespeare wrote tragedies out of his imagination, not from experience. They are foolish, because he had not seen life in the raw. Tragedies cannot be written. They are inarticulate.

I wish every parent considering not vaccinating their child was obliged to read the first chapter, in which he relates how common it was for children to die of now-preventable diseases; one family had nine of ten children die of diptheria. He proceeds to explain exactly what death by diptheria looks like. I already knew this, but his description brings it to horrifying life.

Not all of the book is that intense, and much of it is quite funny. If you can bear reading about death and gross procedures, I recommend it.

This seems to be out of print, but Amazon has used copies listed at very cheap prices.


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