by Margaret Stearn
2001, Hatherleigh Press
Review by Kristin Nelson, M.A. on Feb 7th 2003
Embarrassing Medical Problems
is a user-friendly text that gives the terminally shy or embarrassed patient
some recourse other than baring all to their doctors or just living without
help. Appropriately, excessive shyness
is one of the topics. However, judging
by the number of people who picked the book up from my desk "just to
browse," my guess is that everyone has a little something he or she
doesn't feel comfortable discussing with a physician.
The book is subtitled
"everything you always wanted to know but were afraid to ask your
doctor." It would appear from
reviewing the table of contents that most people want to know about, but are
afraid to discuss, sex. In fact, the sex/genitalia topics - bottoms, breasts,
condoms, crab lice, ejaculation, genital warts, headache during sex, impotence,
jock itch, lumps on genitalia, nipples, oral sex, penis, sex, swollen
testicles, urinating during sex, vaginal problems, vaginal lips and vulva -
comprise 43% of the sections in this book. It is clear that people are not
comfortable discussing their bodies - particularly questions of the "is
this normal?" variety. Some of
these problems seem more social than medical in nature. For instance, the section on condoms details
how to put a condom on and keep it from slipping off. I personally dont know anyone who has ever considered asking his
or her doctor for advice on this. But
perhaps they should, since a misused condom can result in serious health
The tone of the book is friendly
and empathetic. The author emphasizes
that there is no medical condition that will shock a doctor, so people
shouldn't think twice about consulting a doctor for any problem, regardless of
how personal or seemingly embarrassing.
However, for those who decline professional counsel or dont believe
their problem worthy of a visit to the doctor's office, this book is here to
answer their questions. It's also a fun
read for those of us who like to have odd facts at our fingertips.
There are forty-four topics covered
in this book with many broken into subtopics. The topics are covered in a
visually pleasing, easy to read format.
Most topics include a sidebar of interesting facts about the condition,
including historical and cultural tidbits.
For instance, did you know that as a considerate host you should keep a
box of matches in your bathroom for your guests because lighting a match
immediately neutralizes any odor they may produce? Diagrams are used liberally as teaching aides, though there is
only one photograph in the whole book.
The author has done an exceptional job of using diagrams to achieve
Since many of these issues are
difficult to talk about they are also the type for which myths abound. True-false quizzes are included in some
sections as a fun way of dispelling common misconceptions about these
problems. Other sections incorporate
colorful sidebars that highlight facts about the condition. In all the sections, there is clearly an
effort to impart accurate information that will help the reader address his or
her problem and be more comfortable discussing the issue with a physician if
Each section begins with a
description of the problem or condition.
This is usually followed by an explanation of what causes the condition,
or if the topic is a body area, such as breasts, there is a discussion of the
range of normal appearance and function.
This is followed by suggestions for home remedies - what one can do to
avoid the problem or cure it if you have it.
Attention is also given to popular treatments that dont work, so that
the reader knows what to avoid.
Finally, there is a discussion about what a doctor could do for the
condition or problem, including an explanation of what tests might be done and
what treatments might be offered. At
the end of most sections there is a list of useful links to help the reader
find more information on the subject or to put the reader in contact with
organizations that can offer advice or support.
While one is unlikely to sit down
and read this book from cover to cover, it is worth skimming through each
section. There is something to be
learned on each page. This is a useful,
if limited, reference book that will catch the attention of anyone who sees
it. But no one will claim to need
it. Remember, they are "just
© 2003 Kristin Nelson
Kristin Nelson, M.A.,
is an assistant professor and medical ethicist at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's
Medical Center & Rush University in Chicago. She is also the mother of three-year-old twins on the autism spectrum.