Book Review: Differential Daignosis



Differential Diagnosis
Edited by Leah Kaminsky; written by various contributors


Every once in a while you come across a book that redefines the very concept of reading; every once in a while you come across a book that makes you drop whatever you are doing and get absorbed; once in a while…. This is one of those books. A book with simple clean prose, an engaging writing style (especially considering its content), a book that leaves its mark on your memory, a book that takes you deep into the emotions of doctors – and yet is interesting to read as well as fast paced! A book written by doctors – actual, practicing doctors: Atul Gawande, Sandeep Jauhar, Perri Klass, Robert Jay Lifton, Danielle Ofri… 

You would expect to read boring repitive stuff; or perhaps great cases handled by these doctors; or maybe stories of that leave you depressed at the ugly aspect of life. You couldn’t be more wrong; you are treated instead to a veritable kaleidoscope of the colours of life – the entire spectrum of life. You will read about amazing and interesting incidents – simple things like the first operation of a would-be surgeon; the first intensive care ward rounds. The style of writing comes across as a total and pleasant surprise – in place of being dry and tactless, it is on the contrary very alive and full of blossom and emotion. Not what you would expect from doctors, to be totally honest!

The book itself is divided into 2 parts: non-fiction and fiction. The non-fiction part details stories like The Checklist which starts with an episode in intensive care, detailing the pressures faced by doctors, the tasks required to be done to take care of a patient… by the middle of this story, you begin to appreciate the difficulties and pressures of being a doctor, the endless decisions that must be taken on a routine basis. The story then moves on to the importance and the impact of something so simple as a checklist of tasks to be done. Wonder of wonders, the addition of a simple checklist can even save lives… this forces you to question yourself – if even lives can be saved by checklists – perhaps we should keep one for all our little tasks!

Another class story dwells on the experience of a doctor who has just lost his first patient – admirable well chronicled in The Beauty. A heart rending tale, dispassionately told, yet chronicled with intense feeling – it is a tale that takes you into the heart and mind of a doctor. You realize that these people are special, one of a kind: people who are trained to take decisions to save lives. When they cure a person, they are usually thanked by the family and the patient; but when the opposite happens, the doctor is all alone… alone with himself and his thoughts. He has to move on; he has no option to move on, for another patient is waiting for his healing hands…

The book is filled with such sensitive and class stories – like the amnesia case, or the Nazi Doctor Story; or the story of the lively but tough intern; or the haunting story of Joshua, a story that will touch the raw nerves of every parent who will read it! These are stories that take you into the mind of the doctors, into the myriad problems, emotions, tensions, successes, relationships and lives of the men and women who strive to keep us healthy. The people to whom we turn to in our hours of need; the people we entrust our lives with. You learn to appreciate the men and women behind the doctors’ masks, and to understand them better…

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