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The Woman with a Worm in Her Head: And Other True Stories of Infectious Disease
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The Woman with a Worm in Her Head: And Other True Stories of Infectious Disease

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  2,450 ratings  ·  112 reviews
A normal, healthy woman becomes host to a pork tapeworm that is burrowing into her brain and disabling her motor abilities.

A handsome man contracts Chicken Pox and ends up looking like the victim of a third degree burn.

A vigorous young athlete is bitten by an insect and becomes a target for flesh-eating strep.

Even the most innocuous everyday activities such as eating a sal
Paperback, 304 pages
Published December 6th 2002 by St. Martin's Griffin (first published 2001)
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4.01  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,450 ratings  ·  112 reviews

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Jan 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
Please do not read this book if you are a hypochondriac in any way. If you don't, you'll believe you are dying from some crazy microbe or virus or worm every time you get sick.

I agree with other reviewers that this book is more of a memoir than a straight accounting of various potentially fatal diseases. But I felt that it added to the story, to see how doctors really are human too, though we expect so much from them. It also points out how falsely confident Americans tend to be regarding disea
Feb 25, 2014 rated it really liked it
“It started four days ago, on Monday. I felt a little tired…”

Andy, the person quoted above, didn’t realize that on his business trip to Cote d’Ivoire the week before, he’d caught a pretty nasty virus—one that would cause him to narrowly escape death. Fortunately, he’d walked into the right hospital, and into the care of Dr. Pamela Nagami, a medical “Columbo” of her field—infectious diseases.

“Often I work like a detective, sifting through the evidence other doctors give me: the patients’ sy
Sonja Arlow
When I finished reading this was left with the reminder that although I may not have a perfect body it is perfectly healthy. A blessing so easily overlooked until things go wrong.

This collection of infectious disease cases was a nice book to dip in and out of.

I liked this but didn’t LOVE it. I think it’s very difficult to strike the perfect balance between writing about medicine within the framework of an author’s personal life. This one felt slightly off balance to me. Sometimes sharing too mu
Nov 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
"The Woman with a Worm in her Head" is a clearly and elegantly written account of Dr Nagami's career as an infectious diseases specialist. Her stories of treatments and outcomes are as gripping and full of incident as good detective fiction (though infused with more humanity). But my general ignorance and too fleeting retention of the medical and scientific details had me taking a break half way through. When I took up the book from the beginning again, I was determined to keep alert and to Goog ...more
Dec 25, 2007 rated it liked it
A collection of an Infectious Disease Specialist's stories and encounters over the past twenty years of her work in the field. Her descriptions of the illnesses and the progression thereof are brilliant and clinical. Sometimes, she gets a little overbearing in trying to afford something spiritual to the medical cases (i.e. A scene in her residency involving a fetus's hand and seeing 'the work of God', not exactly my bag.) I will never eat salad in a foreign country. Gah.
If you're at all inclined towards hypochondria or are squeamish about the thought of parasitic worms moving through a body, this is not the book for you. If you're not, it's a nice, lightweight overview of an infectious disease specialist's work.

I wish there had been more depth to the book -- I'd have liked to see more in detail about how the diseases affect the body biologically, and I wish she'd spent more time talking about the process used to diagnose the diseases and how similarly presentin
Baal Of
Jan 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, science
I have a deep fascination with medicine, disease, parasites, and pretty much any related subject. In an alternate version of the world, I might have been a doctor of some sort, if I hadn't been diverted into computers in high school. This kind of book gives me a vicarious look into what that alternate life might have been like, and what a powerful glimpse. Nagami gives personal, detailed narratives around various cases, and I love every one of them. Even when she detoured into her personal life ...more
May 22, 2012 rated it liked it
First off, a disclaimer.

Do NOT read this book if you're a hypochondriac, otherwise you'll think you're developing all of the symptoms you're reading about.

I liked the different case studies the author wrote about, however, I was a bit put off by the flashbacks, as they ended up being kind of boring, and I swear in one chapter that there was a flashback inside a flashback where I felt like I was watching the movie "Inception"

Some of the jargon is on a technical level, but is more or less explaine
Jun 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I've mentioned before that I'm a huge fan of the medical case report genre. I do not believe it is solely my fandom that resulted in my rave review, however. This author truly has a way with words. I was honestly tearing up at several points as I read about her terribly sick patients and the feelings stirred up as she cared for them. The scientist in me was gleeful at the vivid descriptions and plentiful background information on the various pathogens. I highly recommend this one!
Big H
Dec 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Interesting medical cases are presented in layman's terms in this book and are written in such a way as to make every case really "hit home." Each chapter is written to tell the medical details of each case, as well as how each case affected the author personally (i.e. how the case affected her time at home with her children). The author also provides symptoms of and helpful hints about how to avoid getting certain diseases/parasites.
May 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Oooooh the book is scary, if you want to make an explanation for the tv series the living dead or any apocalypse origin story I am sure you can get ideas from this book. I enjoyed Nagami's writing and her stories were educational and entertaining.
Jan 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Definitely not for the faint of heart (or stomach) but a really good read if you're interested in infectious disease. I'm sure some of the treatments are no longer our first response/best practice since this was published almost two decades ago but I would definitely recommend if you've got an interest in the topic - Nagami's tone is sensitive and empathetic, and her care for her patients really shines through.
Feb 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I went through this book very fast (didn't get around to writing the review though). It was fascinating. Nagami is an infectious disease doctor in Los Angeles and in this book, she writes about some of her cases. She writes well, drawing her readers into these patient's lives, and how the doctors desperately try to find treatment to save them. These are all cases of diseases that people mostly got here in the United States. Sometimes we think we are protected from infectious diseases in this cou ...more
Mar 20, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
This was a great book to fully understand what an infectious disease doctor goes through at work from day to day. The book was helpful in sharing the symptoms of common bacterial and viral infections and the havoc that these sometimes benign organisms (viruses are not technically organisms but work as one by using the host's DNA/RNA replication machinery) can wreak on the human body. I was unaware of the danger of not having had chicken pox as a child...that story was painful and scary. The job ...more
Apr 11, 2013 rated it did not like it
As a physician assistant with extensive experience treating patients with infectious diseases, I was excited to read this book. Unfortunately, Dr. N incorrectly called my profession "physician's assistant" and then went on to use extremely derogatory language to describe a patient with a history of substance abuse, I had to stop reading. This may be an amazing book with many jaw dropping stories of rarely seen diseases and Dr. Nagami may be a very skilled physician but I quickly realized her way ...more
Jul 29, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: pre-meds
Shelves: science, nonfiction
This is a really cool book written by Dr. Paula Nagami, who is an infectious disease specialist in California. Each chapter focuses on a particularly interesting/difficult case she was faced with, and together the chapters tell the story of her development as a doctor. This book was one of the things that really got me into wanting to go to med school. I think anyone who's pre-med would particularly enjoy it, but others would probably find it interesting, too. But be warned.. as you might have g ...more
May 01, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, science
WARNING - do not read this book if you are a germaphobe or hypochondriac. You will definitely start thinking about that overseas trip and all the parasites that you may have possibly picked up. Not that I did that....nope not at all. Medical writing can be a little tricky to get in all the details and not make it overly technical. This book, while interesting was a little technical detail heavy and finesse lacking. I still liked it though. How could you not with a title like that?
Lou Lindsley
Aug 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
For those of you in love with shows such as Monsters Inside Me or House, this is the book for you. It is a book that shows both how resilient the human body is as well as how fragile it is. I give four stars because there were a few areas that got a little tedious, so I skimmed. Other than that, it is a great way to become scared of everything from chickenpox... to pork... to the wind.
Anna Engel
Nov 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
I love medical case reports and I love reading about weird medical conditions. I guess I live vicariously through the doctors. Dr. Nagami is a good writer and engages the reader well--with more than just gruesome descriptions. She describes the work she does, the people she meets, the relationships she forms, and the sometimes heartbreaking results.

Since healthcare and who pays for what is so much in the news right now, I can't help but feel compassion for the unimaginable expense these familie
Dec 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: medicine
I love books like this. It was fascinating and so medical, and I thoroughly enjoyed every bit of it. I don't get a chance to see these pathogens very often, and I get a little thrill when Dr. Nagami wrote about putting a patient on a "respirator," because that's my speciality. I have a couple of other books by her, and I look forward reading them.
Jul 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
This was a great book, but it definitely left me wanting MORE... more details, more stories, more access to learn about infectious disease.
Aug 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A casual reminder that modern medicine hasn't conquered everything, and nor is it likely man will ever conquer all disease. Seriously good reading, but definitely not for the squeamish.
Jan 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Medical, sciencey, and super gross. I was absolutely fascinated. I question reading before bed though, unless you want visions of pork tapeworms burrowing through your head.
Liana Mathias
Aug 06, 2018 rated it liked it
3.5. Interesting read and important for anyone who questions vaccination against the supposedly benign diseases.
Corey Ledin-Bristol

I highly recommend this fascinating and terrifying read! The chapters about the horrors of cocci and how deadly chicken pox can be for an adult will give you nightmares.
Jan 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A book for fans of the show House

The writing isn't in the best style, but she is an amazing story teller. I muttered, "holy shit" more than once while reading it.
Sep 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Make sure you get vaccinated!

Fantastic read that had me coming back for more. Worded in such a way that I could understand, even though I have little medical background.
Rocio Reed
Mar 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
Had a bit of a slow start but it was worth it, all the stories are so interesting and told by one doctor through out the whole book. Definitely a good read.
Allyson Dyar
Jan 01, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
The Woman with a Worm in Her Head: And Other True Stories of Infectious Disease
By Pamela Nagami M.D., F. Gonzalez-Crussi

It’s become obvious to me that the more I enjoy reading a book, the faster I write the review — hence my writing this review a few weeks after finishing the book.

The Woman with a Worm in Her Head: And Other True Stories of Infectious Disease was well-written and quite interesting, but it left me confused as to what I was reading. Was I reading a book about Dr Nagami or was I re
Stacie Nishimoto
Mar 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
"I've seen the way tissue killed by gas-producing bacteria crackles under the finger like a ball of cellophane. I know the smell of a staph infection (mousy, musty, rancid), and how to see the gaps that tell me there's a parasite living in your brain: gaps in words you want to say, gaps in a movement of your hand, gaps in your gait."

"Just beyond the fear is the fascination of solving the mystery of a sudden illness that's tearing its way through a body. I can't save all my patients, but I have n
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Dr. Pamela Nagami is a practicing physician in internal medicine and infectious diseases with the Southern California Permanente Medical Group and a Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine at UCLA. She has made appearances on CNN and NPR. She lives with her husband and two children in Encino, California.
“that Jeremy was suffering from meningococcemia. I was haunted by something I had read about the infection: “The capacity of the meningococcus to kill a perfectly healthy individual within a few hours remains one of the most awesome characteristics of this disease.” 0 likes
“When I put my stethoscope to a person’s chest what I’m listening for are signs of the heart’s flaws. In a normal adult heart, all you hear are the sounds of the heart valves snapping shut after the blood flows across them. The blood’s flow, as it moves across normal heart valves and around cardiac structures that are smooth and without abnormal perforations, is smooth and silent. It’s called laminar flow, the same quiet, unbroken stream you get if you turn on a faucet just a little. If the edge of a heart valve is rough with scar or calcium, the aperture is leaky or fused shut, or there is a hole in a septum of the heart, the blood will flow through with a whoosh. This is turbulent flow, and it’s also what happens across a water faucet that is clogged or opened wide. When doctors hear a murmur, they’re hearing turbulent flow across something abnormal in the heart. That” 0 likes
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