Have you ever read an essay or a magazine article that’s stayed with you?
24 years ago, a surgeon in New Haven, CT wrote a narrative essay about one of his patients, a young woman whose mysterious ailment led him to investigate a medical condition the likes of which he’d never seen before. His essay appeared as an article in the February 1995 issue of Discover Magazine, which I found lying on a table somewhere – probably in an office at ASU, as I was in college at the time.
I opened the magazine to the most interesting and horrifying medical story I’ve ever read. I say this without a shred of hyperbole.
Real-life mysteries fascinate me.
I’ve never forgotten this particular medical mystery; I’ve sought out the article several times in the 20+ years since. It’s the only magazine article I’ve wanted to re-read over and over, and it’s the only article whose title I’ve never forgotten. Granted, its title is somewhat sensational: “The Beast in the Belly.” Sensational, yet apt.
The first time I wanted to revisit the article, I had to go to the media library in the campus’ main library’s basement to hunt through the archived magazines. I Xerox’d the article so I wouldn’t have to repeat the effort in the future. I re-read the article several times over the passing years, and I also shared it with friends and family, like you do when your fascination borders on obsession. At some point, I lost my copy of the article, but by then we were far enough into the Digital Age that I was able to find the article online. (I remember how amazed I was at the idea of someone putting archived magazine articles on the internet!)
Perhaps the medical mystery in question may not be as much of a mystery today as it was 20+ years ago. It’d been mysterious enough back then, though, that this surgeon encountered it for the first time and learned about it as he frantically worked with a team to save the young woman’s life (which they did). Even if the ailment is less of a mystery now, it’s still rare in western countries, I believe.
The ailment is not common in western countries, and that is why this surgeon and his medical team in New Haven didn’t know what they were dealing with when this patient landed on their table with her guts rapidly necrotizing.
I’ll now leave you to read this essay – “The Beast in the Belly” – for yourselves, if you’re so inclined. (I spent the morning at the hospital, and this story occupied my thoughts while I was there, in case you were wondering why the medical mystery came back to mind this time.)
Grab the beverage of your choice and enjoy!