Critical Judgment – by Michael Palmer (1996)

Author Michael Palmer was himself an emergency room doctor, before switching to a writing career. He wrote fiction based around what he knew best: medicine and hospitals. “Critical Judgment” is Mr. Palmer’s seventh novel. In it, Dr. Abby Dolan has just started her new job at a small California hospital north of San Francisco. At first she is nervous about the amount of responsibility she has been given in the emergency department. But before long, the nervousness is replaced by a concern about the high number of patients that have been showing up with unexplained symptoms: blinding headaches, confusion, skin ailments, and personality changes.

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The Second Opinion – by Michael Palmer (2009)

The Second Opinion

Dr. Petros Sperelakis is an internal medicine physician who helped start the Beaumont Clinic, a hospital specializing in diagnosing and treating terminal illnesses. When Petros is in an auto accident that leaves him comatose, his four children rush to be with him. It is doubtful that Petros will regain consciousness. Three of his children are okay with turning off the devices that are keeping their father alive. Only Thea, the daughter who has devoted her life to Doctors Without Borders in the Congo, disagrees. She believes that her father is actually conscious and aware of his surroundings, but unable to communicate. As she finds a way to “talk” with him, questions begin to arise. Was the car accident really an accident? Is the tight security around the hospital’s patients’ medical records abnormal? Did her father know something that someone doesn’t want revealed?

I listened to an abridged audio version of this book. The narrator, Franette Liebow, did a masterful job of speaking exactly as a person with Asperger’s Syndrome (Thea) would – somewhat flat and a bit staccato. Everything was very logical and literal for her. Throughout the novel, you could see the situation through her eyes. Her brother, Dimitri, also had Asperger’s, but we were not permitted to see into his mind.

There was a bit of language and some sexual content, which I basically skipped over for the most part by jumping to the next CD track. (Each track was 60 seconds or less, so there was not much lost.) There was also a gory scene at one point, which could make some readers feel squeamish. But overall, I found it to be a good medical mystery-thriller and the villain someone I did not suspect.

About the author: Michael Palmer was an internal medicine physician himself, first working in his own practice, and later working in an emergency room. After a failed marriage and a series of knee surgeries, Michael became addicted to alcohol and pain medication, and lost his job. He got psychiatric help for his problems, and began writing as a form of therapy. Later, he began to do interviews and bring awareness to the issue of substance abuse among physicians. In 2013 he suffered a heart attack and died, but he leaves behind many medical novels.