A Dimm View of Life

Location: Illinois, United States

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Medical Science of House M.D.

Several months ago I wrote a post about the television series House M.D. I have found myself addicted to the series after discovering it last fall. The USA Network allowed me to catch up on the previous two years while coasting along with the current season which ended just a week or so ago.

At the time I wrote the post I received a response from Andrew Holtz, MPH. He has written a book entitled "The Medical Science of House M.D." It took me close to six months, but I recently did find the time to devour a copy.

Holtz is a medical journalist. He worked for CNN as a medical correspondent in the 1980s and 1990s. He has also done plenty of work for public broadcasting.

Compared to all of his previous work, his latest book seems like a very commercial piece of puffery. House M.D. is a television show. It is fully of pretty, California looking doctors and patients for a series taking place in New Jersey. The concept that the good doctor is strung out on Vicodin and only sees patients he wants to see is hardly believable.

So why should be believe these far out tales of medical absurdities? Why would we think that anything that happens on the show is realistic at all?

From reading Holtz's book, there is plenty that is real and plenty that is fantasy, bordering on science fiction. One simple thing that Holtz exposes is that doctors rarely do their own lab work. House constantly gives his team assignments and sometimes swoops in and studies the results himself.

In reality, doctors do not do that. In some cases, they are not even allowed to do their own testing and analysis. They simply do not have the time or the training. Radiologists are paid good money to take the pictures and analyze the results. Sometimes the process takes days and weeks. Rarely do the good “facing” doctors come up with the solution to the medical mystery within twenty-four hours.

Yet some stories are closer to reality. The story of the couple with Cadmium poisoning due to smoking bad marijuana is a real possibility. Holtz explains to the reader that marijuana and tobacco are both likely to pull large amounts of heavy metals from the soil, which the smoker will later ingest. I have never smoked either substance but have always joked that I may when I retire and am no longer considered a role model. This story puts even the that light consideration to rest.

Holtz has put together an excellent paper. One chapter flows into the next easily, from the first visit to the doctor, to testing and all points of the diagnosis process. In fact, the author really did not need to include Dr. House in his presentation at all. The book could easily have stood on its own as a book about diagnosing illness.

When reading the ingredient list on a label, the FDA insists that the first ingredients listed have the greatest percentage in the package while the last ingredients listed have the smallest amount. The title of this book could hold to that requirement.

"The Medical Science of House M.D." is much more about medicine and science that it is about the television show. Holtz is obviously familiar with the program; although I am not positive he is a fan. After reading the book, it strikes me that he just wants to set the minds of potential patients straight about what their expectations should be.

He does that here and does it well. If you have any curiosity about specific storylines, or have an interest at all in the process of diagnosing illness, this book is worth your time.

Thank you for reading. We'll talk again soon.

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