Sunday, January 22, 2017

New Yorker: "Medical Mysteries" (Including "The Woman Who Scratched Through Her Skull")

The New Yorker

A selection of stories from The New Yorker’s archive

Medical Mysteries

Literary scholars have a theory about detective stories: they say that they express our fears about modern life. Living in a big city, far from your family, you don’t know whom to trust; as a result, you come to regard everybody with a healthy dose of skepticism. If that’s true, then what do medical mysteries—stories of unaccountable illnesses and clever cures—say about us? This week, we bring you seven such stories. In Atul Gawande’s “The Itch,” a woman starts scratching and can’t stop; her horrifying plight has the side effect of revealing something about the way our brains work. Similarly, Richard Preston’s “An Error in the Code” explores a rare disorder that causes people to harm themselves; it offers a window into the laws that govern normal human behavior. Stories like these—and Oliver Sacks’s “The Case of Anna H.,” about a woman who loses the ability to recognize objects—seem to evoke the combined wonder and fear we feel in response to new discoveries about the frailties of the human body. Other pieces, such as Cynthia Zarin’s “An Enlarged Heart” and Laura Hillenbrand’s “A Sudden Illness,” speak to the fact that, in an age of technological predictability, our health is one part of life over which we have relatively little control. Finally, Berton Roueché’s “Sandy” (concerning a case of mass hysteria at a Florida elementary school) and Margaret Talbot’s “The Bad Mother” (about parents who fake their children’s illnesses) are about how, sometimes, people are so unknowable that even the scientific community finds itself flummoxed. Considered together, the pieces below suggest that often it’s not other people we need to watch out for—it’s ourselves.
—Erin Overbey and Joshua Rothman, archivists

Anna did particularly badly in tests of visual perception. She called a violin a banjo, a glove a statue, and pliers a banana.
A Neurologist’s Notebook|October 7, 2002

The Case of Anna H.


Photograph by Jacqueline O’Neill
Personal History|July 7, 2003

A Sudden Illness


Photograph by Wayne Miller / Magnum
Annals of Medicine|August 21, 1978



It was August, and we were at the beach. All winter we dreamed of the house.
Personal History|August 18, 2003

An Enlarged Heart


Sufferers of Lesch-Nyhan syndrome are uncontrollably driven to harm themselves.
Annals of Medicine|August 13, 2007

An Error in the Code


Scientists once saw itching as a form of pain. They now believe it to be a different order of sensation.
Annals of Medicine|June 30, 2008

The Itch


No comments:

Post a Comment