Typically, I hate neurology. I barely survived it in med school, largely because it was so boring I had to focus on my vital signs – breathing, heartbeat, etc – during lectures because they were so boring.
I don’t like neurology there’s TONS of information to know, but really not much that can be done for most neuro problems. Why memorize 8 hours a day for 3 weeks straight so I can know a bunch of useless crap? “Sorry to hear about your XX symptoms, Mrs. Quiver. Here’s the complicated process that is happening…isn’t it cool that I know that? What? You want me to DO something for you? HA! Are you kidding lady? I’m a NEUROLOGIST, for crying out loud. ”
This, of course, isn’t a fair assesment of the entire specialty of neurology. I’m just not cut out for it, so my depiction of it is biased, unfair and not especially realistic. The other thing I learned since school is that patients are immensely reassured by knowledge about their disease even if there isn’t, in fact, a cure. Many people go into medicine because we want to “help” people, but we have a rather narrow definition of that notion. The ‘help’ I would be providing is narrow, focused and totally on my terms. Classic paternalism. In truth, people have their own ideas of what they want from their doctors. All that knowledge stored up in a Neurologist’s head can give enormous help to patients, even if they never did anything to ‘help’ them.
Anyway, I started this rant to direct attention to a recent situation where neurologists actually may solve a genuine medical mystery. You can read about it here. Beware, the story involves a meat-processing plant (and pork, at that) complete with depictions of what they do in there. Even as a doc, I found myself a little queasy when they went into detail about a station on the processing line where workers “blow out brains”. Blugh! They really do that?
Overcome the stomach-gymnastics, however, and the story is fascinating. A unusual number of patients began showing up with complaints of fatigue, pain, weakness, numbness and tingling in the legs and feet. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen people for kind of thing – usually related to diabetes. Often, there’s no explanation and I have to tell them, “Sir, I’m sorry to tell you that you have U. H. S., otherwise known as “Unfortunate Human Syndrome”. These symptoms are likely to abate as soon as you become immortal or transform into a superhero.”
The interesting thing in this case is that 3 or 4 people all came to the doctor with similar descriptions around the same time and all worked at the same plant. This factoid rules out the worker’s comp manipulators and the typical “I feel crappy in my legs” types of people. Researchers from many of the top places got involved, like the CDC, Mayo Clinic, Columbia Univeristy, and some top researchers too. So far, they’ve been able to control many of the symptoms and have an idea about what is going on, but don’t know yet for sure. Let’s just say that any time you “blow up brains”, it isn’t going to go so well for you.