February 2011

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Finally a What Are You Reading Now on the 1st of the month! I just started reading Every Patient Tells a Story: Medical Mysteries and the Art of Diagnosis by Dr. Lisa Sanders. The title makes it sound like Leonard Nimoy’s In Search Of. Join us as we travel the world in search of the world’s greatest medical mysteries! But that’s not what it’s about. It’s much more interesting (or applicable to the average reader at least) because these are ordinary mysteries. It’s about people coming into the hospital with problems and doctors having to figure out what’s wrong with them.

Very good book so far and I’m only a few pages in. Dr. Sanders points out that these days we have treatment protocols for almost every ailment. In that environment, the toughest step toward recovery is figuring out what the ailment is. That is the art of diagnosis.

I hate it when you’re a patient and have to tell your story to about ten nurses and doctors before you finally get to your doctor. This book is making me more receptive to that for several reasons. First, Dr. Sanders says studies have shown that 70-90 percent of all diagnoses are made based on the patient’s story alone. Not on tests, not on physical examination, just based on what patients say to their doctors about what’s bothering them. That makes listening to patients very important, and doctors are traditionally not good at listening to their patients. (To be fair, humans in general are not good at listening to their fellow humans.)

Dr. Sanders related a story in which a woman with a health problem saw specialist after specialist who could not solve her problem until finally one doctor did. Between study and experience, doctors have a lot crammed in their heads. This doctor happened to know the rare expression of a rare disease. Wow, how lucky she was that he knew! What a coincidence! Or you could say it was likely that of all the doctors she told her story to, one of them would have this knowledge. The lesson for me was: if you have an undiagnosed medical issue, tell your story loudly and thoroughly to any doctor that will listen because sooner or later it’s likely you’ll come across a doctor who has a eureka moment.

What are you reading now?