The Second Opinion
By Michael Palmer
Thorndike Press, Large Print Edition (2009)
ISBN 10: 1-59722-870-2
ISBN 13: 978-1-59722-870-1
Genre: Fiction, Medical Thriller
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - July 20, 2009
Two novelists excel in writing medical mysteries. Both are physicians who write best sellers. One is Robin Cook and the second is Michael Palmer. Both write thrillers that involve medical conspiracies, generally headed by hospital personnel who are more interested in money than in their patients’ health. Even people who are unable to watch medical shows or hear about medical procedures or visit hospitals or see blood flow are able to read and enjoy the twists and turns in their books.
This novel involves Petros Sperelakis, a wealthy man, the most celebrated internal medicine specialist in the world. He is severely injured by a hit and run driver, and is lying apparently comatose, unable to move or speak or be conscious of what transpires around him, in the state of the art clinic that he founded. Three of his four children are doctors; all four are adults. Two are convinced that he will not recover and want to remove his life supports. Two oppose their siblings. Petros did not treat any of his four children well and was generally disliked in the hospital.
The two who fight the decision suffer from Asperger syndrome, a kind of autism that causes them to feel different from and to see the world unlike non-Asperger people. Yet, both are successful in what they do. They are exceptionally bright. Dimitri is an expert with computers and is considered the smartest person alive. He secludes himself in the guard house of his family’s massive estate, surrounded by computers. He develops a sophisticated computer system for his father’s state of art clinic that alters the way its doctors view their patients. Thea is a physician who feels unable to work in a hospital setting and travels to Africa where she treats the poor with Doctors Without Borders. She rushes home when she hears of her father’s injury. She is the heroine of this story.
Thea discovers that her father’s doctors had misdiagnosed Petros. She notices that Petros is able, although barely, to blink one of his eyes in response to yes and no questions. She becomes convinced that her dad has lock-down syndrome. While his body, except for the one eye, is entirely locked down and he is unable to move, he is totally conscious. He can hear and think and, what is worse, feel pain.
The book raises many questions. Was the hit and run an accident or a murder attempt? Who would want to kill Petros? Why would they want to do it? Are the two siblings who want to stop his life support involved? Will the attempted murderer or murderers try to kill him again? Will Thea be able to help her father regain his ability to speak and use his body? Who can she get to help her? Is the hospital guard that she meets on her side? Can she who has Asperger syndrome form a love relationship with a non-Asperger syndrome man? Will her Asperger induced tendency to always tell the truth hurt her relationship and stop her from solving the mystery surrounding her father? Is the woman who said she had a sexual relation with her father telling the truth? Are the doctor’s who misdiagnosed her father involved in a conspiracy?
The novel also raises issues that go beyond the book? When should people ask for medical second opinions? Does it really make sense to allow a comatose patient to die? If it does make sense, what measures should the patient’s family take to assure that they are doing the right thing in killing the patient? Can a family rely on a doctor’s opinion?
The novel moves swiftly and skillfully with changes and reverses; what seems reasonable at one moment is shown as unreasonable. Near the middle of the thriller, Thea discovers a motive that seems like a motive found in other medical thrillers, but Michael Palmer adds disclosures that complicate it. It is like Amadeus Mozart taking a peasant tune and varying it with atonal dissonances and variations that turn into a fascinating symphony.
Dr. Israel Drazin is the author of a series of books on Maimonides, a twelfth century rational philosopher, and the co-author of a series of books on Targum Onkelos, the earliest existing translation of the Hebrew Bible. Both are published by Gefen Publishing House, www.israelbooks.com.