Playing the Ponies and Other Medical Mysteries Solved, by Dr. Stuart Mushlin

This novel brought to mind one of my favorite documentaries years ago called The Poisoner’s Handbook, which recounted Dr. Alexander Gettler’s attempts to resolve public health crises in the early-mid 1900’s. That documentary cemented my interest in science and the detective work that was often associated with it. This novel was a more doctor-patient focused narrative, but approached cases in the same detective style, and with a real honesty as well. This was evident from the title, and that’s what drew me to it.

Dr. Mushlin’s account was different from those I had seen previously. He writes in a conversational style, and clearly has a very mature and positive spin on the profession. Too often in recent history, I’ve seen the difficulties of medicine, but now Mushlin has reminded me that while long hours and occasionally unruly patients require extensive “bracing”, medicine is something that is incredibly beautiful at the same time. Getting to be a part of a person’s life, knowing their family, maybe being like another member of that family is something that can’t be taken away and is simply the most beautiful human emotion. Mushlin recalls an event where one of his patients, post-operation and treatment, invites him to his son’s law school graduation. Many other patients are either friends of Mushlin or hospital employees, offering incredible perspectives. Mushlin gives the luxury of explaining in detail the important takeaways, such as the chronically understated value of nurses, and the value of humility and how to act when you are wrong in any particular situation. For example, Mushlin recounts these tests called CPC’s (which I can’t find on YouTube, but seem exceedingly cool) where a doctor is given a case, 10 days to prepare, and then present his/her thought process to a group while a pathologist has the real answer. These are often like puzzles, and even experienced doctors can get them wrong. What is intriguing is that past history is considered, and extensive inferences are made to reconcile the diagnosis and symptoms.

In the world I live in today, creativity is stifled more often than not. The most creative people are the most bullied, either on the playground or in the media, or even in academia, and this creativity is stifled. Dr. Mushlin’s example of a thought process does not shy away from creativity, especially since it is also a low-stake situation. This is definitely what I aspire towards, because I want to have creative freedom (within strictly rational bounds of course).

But I digress.

The day I started reading this book (yesterday), I stopped to go on a walk with my highly temperamental mother. My mother is as close to a perfectionist as one can get. As she vented to me (about me), I realized I had two options (thank you Dr. Mushlin). I could either get angry (which I deemed a sign of immaturity) or I could approach things calmly and practice some empathy. Generally, I have much more patience towards other people, but a temper is something I still have to fix. I attempted this empathetic approach, listened to my mother, and tried to find the root cause of her grievance. In doing so, I was able to diffuse the situation, and this helped me grow as a person. Will I still lose my cool? For sure. But am I confident that this is something that will be corrected, or at least decrease, with time? Yes.


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