Diagnosis: Solving the Most Baffling Medical Mysteries – Book Review

Book Rating: ★★★★☆   (4.5/ 5 stars)
Audio Book Performance: ★★★★☆  (4 / 5 Stars)
Total Rating: ★★★★☆  (4.5 / 5 stars)

We like to believe that answers will be simple: we’re sick, so we go to our doctor, expecting to receive a dosage of medication to cure us. Most of the time, that is the case. But there are still many times where the toolbox the doctor’s use to solve our disease doesn’t work. Dr. Lisa Sanders has been exploring these pathways to diagnosis for years, and Diagnosis only scratches the surface of the weird diseases we, as humans, can acquire.

Diagnosis immediately draws in the reader with a story about a woman visiting Kenya. After suspecting to have contracted malaria, but coming up negative in all the relevant tests, doctors rush to figure out what else she could have. Test-after-test for every virus possible comes up negative, and she is left with no answers, while also getting weaker. This, like many cases discussed, is the result of doctor’s being led down the wrong pathway. She didn’t have a virus at all! Her primary care doctor discovers she has an enlarged thyroid. The point though that Sanders is making here is how one small thing can send the doctor’s in the wrong location, or sometimes how tests don’t return the desired results. This story, like many others throughout the novel, stuck with me. There was a woman who contracted “LIME” disease from drinking lime water on the beach, another about a man who suffered from a tick-related disease during flu season, and those are just two at the top of my mind!

What Diagnosis proves is how many diseases, conditions, reactions, and other medical mysteries manifest in the same way: is it a migraine or a brain tumor? An allergy or something worse? Has the patient received too many medications, or too many surgeries?

Some of the medical jargon, of course, was lost to me, but Sanders makes the stories easy enough to understand so whether you have a medical background or not, you understand the condition.

Granted, be careful while you read or listen to this novel…because you might also start thinking you have every disease imaginable!

What’s it about?

As a Yale School of Medicine physician, the New York Times bestselling author of Every Patient Tells a Story, and an inspiration and adviser for the hit Fox TV drama House, M.D., Lisa Sanders has seen it all. And yet she is often confounded by the cases she describes in her column: unexpected collections of symptoms that she and other physicians struggle to diagnose. 

A twenty-eight-year-old man, vacationing in the Bahamas for his birthday, tries some barracuda for dinner. Hours later, he collapses on the dance floor with crippling stomach pains. A middle-aged woman returns to her doctor, after visiting two days earlier with a mild rash on the back of her hands. Now the rash has turned purple and has spread across her entire body in whiplike streaks. A young elephant trainer in a traveling circus, once head-butted by a rogue zebra, is suddenly beset with splitting headaches, as if someone were “slamming a door inside his head.”

In each of these cases, the path to diagnosis—and treatment—is winding, sometimes frustratingly unclear. Dr. Sanders shows how making the right diagnosis requires expertise, painstaking procedure, and sometimes a little luck. Intricate, gripping, and full of twists and turns, Diagnosis puts readers in the doctor’s place. It lets them see what doctors see, feel the uncertainty they feel—and experience the thrill when the puzzle is finally solved.

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