Physicians’ Tales

Sandeep Jauhar in The New York Times:

Jauhar-600 “A story like the one I’ve been telling you is unimaginable nowadays,” a physician proclaims in “The Soul of Medicine,” Sherwin Nuland’s new collection of medical tales. The stories — modeled on “The Canterbury Tales” — are intended to “describe that sacrosanct connection between two people that we call the doctor-patient relationship,” Nuland writes. Indeed, the tales, narrated by physicians recalling their most memorable patients, evoke a bygone era in medicine, though one that is thankfully over.

In “The Surgeon’s Second Tale,” a young man is whisked to the operating room to have a ruptured spleen removed on the basis of a history and physical exam — unthinkable nowadays, when a patient with a simple headache cannot get out of the emergency room without a CAT scan of the brain (though the diagnosis was correct). Another surgeon performs a radical mastectomy on a young woman who believes she is getting only a breast biopsy and a simple vaginal procedure, without even waking her up from anesthesia to tell her that the biopsy indicates cancer. Four hours later, the entire breast and mass of contiguous tissue have been removed. “There’s something we have to talk about,” the surgeon tells her at the bedside.

More here.