Second Opinions: Stories of Intuition and Choice in the Changing World of Medicine – Jerome Groopman, 2000

The medical mystery/doctor’s experiences genre is a favorite of mine. This exemplar comes from one of the New Yorker‘s stable of medical professionals who also write extremely well (where do they find them, I wonder? did Berton Rouche start a special school?) The most striking story is from the prologue: Groopman’s own experience of insisting on surgery so his lower-back problem could be “fixed” quickly. Refusing to listen to doctors who advised rest and “tincture of time,” he shopped around until he found surgeons to operate. As a result, the poor guy to this day has severe physical limitations (the reason he was so impatient originally was because he was in training for the Boston Marathon, so I can identify, but now he can’t run at all…) but also a refreshing humility about medicine and doctors. A number of the stories reflect on the advantages that wealth, connections, and education bestow on people who question their “first opinion” treatments. Like Atul Gawande’s Complications (although not quite as brilliantly), Second Opinions vividly shows that while skilled and intuitive physicians can do remarkable things, as a species we’re still holding a guttering candle in the darkness.

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