Modern technology has given rise to electronic medical records, remote monitoring systems, and satellite-enabled real-time examinations in which patient and physician might be separated by thousands of miles. Yet, when it comes to diagnosing difficult cases, the clinician’s strongest asset might just be one of the oldest tools of the medical profession—careful listening. True Medical Detective Stories is a fascinating compendium of nineteen true-life medical cases, each solved by clinical deduction and facilitated by careful listening. These accounts present puzzling low-tech cases–most of them serious, some humorous–that were solved either at the bedside or by epidemiological studies.

Dr. Clifton Meador’s book is a wonderful contribution to the genre of medical detective stories mastered by the legendary Berton Roueché. As a staff writer at The New Yorker from 1944 until his death fifty years later, Roueché popularized this form, which has provided source material for feature films and most recently supplied scenarios featured in medical television dramas, such as House. While Hollywood frequently oversimplifies and elides the real clinical situations, True Medical Detective Stories sets the record straight with a voice of authority and an engaging style rooted in the fact that most of the cases presented involve Dr. Meador’s actual patients. Dr. Meador discovered Berton Roueché’s writing as a teenager, when he first read Eleven Blue Men. In an astonishing twist of fate, Roueché, in later years, traveled to Nashville to meet with Dr. Meador and discuss one of his cases, with Roueché’s account published posthumously under the title, The Man Who Grew Two Breasts. In a fitting tribute to Roueché, this perplexing case is revisited by Dr. Meador in the opening chapter of this highly enjoyable book. True Medical Detective Stories is a captivating read that will keep you marveling over the idiosyncrasies of the human body and the ingenuity of the human mind.

About the Author

“An intriguing account of 19 medical mysteries and the true–life medical detectives who solved them. Over his 50-plus years of practicing medicine, Meador (Puzzling Symptoms, 2010, etc.) has seen many unusual illnesses that defied traditional diagnosis. In his latest book, he recounts the most fascinating–and downright bizarre–of these cases, in which patients experienced troubling medical symptoms with no apparent cause. The cases involve both Meador’s and others doctors’ patients. All, however, are solved using the same method: medical deduction rooted in careful listening.

The book begins with a dedication to the late Berton Roueché, who popularized the medical-detective genre as a staff writer for the New Yorker. The first chapter, “Dr. Jim’s Breasts,” revisits an interesting case involving a 76–year–old man who suffers from the ailment of the title. Without giving away the ending, through much inquiry, the cause of the man’s breast enlargement is discovered–and it is a curious cause indeed. This and other cases illuminate a consistent theme, which is that patients, with a doctor’s guidance, are often their own best medical detectives. In the chapter “Two Cases of Pneumonia: Two Different Causes,” two unexplained incidents of chronic pneumonia are solved by an infectious disease specialist who teases out patient histories with careful listening and questioning and by “involving a family member in the search for clues.” Other chapters, such as “A Paradoxical Suicide Attempt” and “A Near Death from Hexing,” provide striking examples of the mind’s ability to create profound physiological responses and the need for physicians to take this into account.

The author’s suspenseful, Sherlock Holmes–esque retelling of each case will keep the pages turning. But this is more than just a collection of entertaining anecdotes. In an age of technology-driven, impersonal medical care, Meador provides a powerful reminder of the need for meaningful dialogue between doctors and patients.

In a world of high-tech medical care, Meador makes a compelling argument for the simplest of diagnostic tools—listening to a patient.”

Kirkus Review

“Dr. Meador is offering up much more than an entertaining series of medical anecdotes. He is offering an object lesson on the importance of the "clinical interview", the dialogue between patient and physician that is prerequisite to any meaningful outcome. This is a lesson that should never be lost in the debates over reforming the “health care system”. And Dr. Meador offers it up in a masterly fashion.”

Norton Hadler

“After retiring from 32 years as a surgical RN, there is not much that can surprise me. This writer artfully points out how being a thorough listener can glean amazing relevant facts from their patients and families. So often we in the medical profession give our brief spiel to patients, being pressed for time...Unfortunately, our allotted time with patients is very limited. One of our orthopedic surgeons had created a solo practice in order to practice a more humanistic approach. He told the story of an elderly lady who had lost her husband and presented with chronic wrist/hand pain. Nothing appeared to be abnormal. Upon listening to the patient state repeatedly that she literally could not handle it any more...the MD chatted with her and found that she felt overwhelmed by the tasks presented since her husbands demise. With encouragement from the MD, she agreed to allow her family and friends to become an active part of her support system, and her pain disappeared upon leaving the office!

Wonderfully written book with an interesting review of how young MDs also have their journey through their own belief systems. We all have them. Hopefully no lizards are involved! Delightfully written.”

D. Hanavan
All content © 2014 Clifton K. Meador