Picks and Pans Review: M.d.
by B.H.Kean, M.D., with Tracy Dahlby
This book’s subtitle—One Doctor’s Adventures Among the Famous and Infamous from the Jungles of Panama to a Park Avenue Practice—suggests its tone. “Good teaching is good theater.” writes Kean, now clinical professor emeritus of tropical medicine and public health at Cornell University Medical College. “No matter how arcane the subject matter, wrapped in an intriguing talc it is understood and remembered.”
M.D. (written with Dahlby, ex-managing editor of Newsweek International), proves the doctor’s point. While the book is rich in arcane lore, the stories it tells, the “cases and scientific investigations my students wanted.” are intriguingly told as well.
Kean’s most extraordinary tale, and his longest, concerns the cancer-ridden Shah of Iran, driven from his throne in 1979 by the Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamic rebels. After stays in Egypt, Morocco and the Bahamas, the Shah reached Mexico, where Kean became his principal medical adviser. In October Jimmy Carter let the deposed ruler enter the U.S. for treatment. Soon the Shah had become a huge political liability, and the Carter Administration shunted him to Panama: from there, he took refuge with Anwar Sadat and died in Cairo in July 1980. Kean’s account of medical crises, political conniving and double-crossing, as well as the Shah’s brave dignity, is as startling as it is thrilling. “Rival teams of doctors from France, Mexico, Panama. Egypt and America would fight over the privilege of treating him, ” Kean writes. “In the confusion, they would not only fail to cure him, but contribute to his early death.”
The Shah is not the only big name dropped in this chatty, at times garrulous, book. M.D. tells how Sherwood Anderson died (a swallowed martini toothpick, disclosed by Kean’s autopsy); how Franklin D. Roosevelt came by his interest in sharks; how Martina Navratilova lost an important match and what Salvador Dali’s fee was for a portrait depicting the sitter as a fish.
Readers less concerned with celebrities (and not put off by graphic descriptions of matters colonic) will enjoy Kean’s discourse on diarrhea, especially the case of Charles Putnam Tetchner, a Canadian uranium king. Tetchner, who “harbored a beef tapeworm the length of the average garden hose,” checked into New York Hospital accompanied by a voluptuous blond called Baby and an ex-Mountie bodyguard named Eddy Nelson. Kean’s report of Mr. Tetchner’s treatment, relief and eventual swindling of his medical advisers is a major treat. (Ballantine, $19.95)