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“With all things being equal, the simplest explanation tends to be the right one.” ― William of Ockham
This is what is known as Occam’s Razor. A medieval philosophy which became the theory which inspired Dr. Lawrence Afrin’s research in Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS). When he was presented with several ‘mystery’ patients who had a slew of different symptoms (sound familiar anyone?), he thought there must be one illness, or link, that ties them all together.
Never Bet Against Occam
When I first received the book, Never Bet Against Occam, I felt a little overwhelmed. It’s a monster of a book, especially for those who might have problems with concentration (brain fog). It reminded me of the textbooks I used to get in Psychology class and worried I wouldn’t be able to get through it. However, I was wrong. First, almost half of the book is the appendix, so the part you need to read (unless you’re really interested in medical research) is only 264 pages.
It also read nothing like a dry textbook full of jargon. Afrin presents his findings like a mystery novel where he is the detective. There are many case studies, and he explains how he was able to make a diagnosis each time. I think anyone living with a chronic illness will identify with the patients he sees, even if you don’t think you have MCAS. There is a bit of scientific/medical lingo, but it’s not too bad, and you don’t need to understand all the terms or measurements to get the gist of his ideas.
What Is MCAS And What Was Discovered In This Book?
MCAS is a rare disease that, before Dr. Afrin’s research, was rarely diagnosed properly. The patients who Afrin sees are often either undiagnosed (despite their debilitating symptoms) or have been diagnosed with a variety of different rare diseases. Following Occam’s Razor, Afrin continued to search for one illness that would explain all the symptoms. Starting with his first patient in 2008 and spanning other patients he’s seen over the last decade, Afrin takes us on the journey of how he came to find a common diagnosis for these patients, and how he is now able to treat these patients to drastically reduce their symptoms.
Who Should Read It?
If you have many unexplained symptoms you find debilitating or have a new diagnosis of MCAS, I think you will get a lot of information and hope from reading this book. The symptoms are really ‘full body’ from skin conditions, muscle conditions, problems with digestion, breath retention, and heart rate. There is even a case of possible spontaneous combustion!
If you are a nurse or doctor who works with rare disease patients, then definitely pick this book up. Afrin gives a compassionate insight into what rare disease patients go through both physically and emotionally and will give a lot of insight into how you can provide support for these patients.
The Takeaway From Never Bet Against Occam
As someone who has been through an undiagnosed array of symptoms and doctors/friends who didn’t understand what was going on, it was really inspiring to read a book about a Dr. Who clearly cares so much for his patients, and was determined to find the right answer, rather than the easy answer.
Dr. Afrin ends the book by encouraging the MCAS community to lobby their governments, join mast cell disease organisations, sharing their stories, contacting research funders, etc. To further develop research in this field. Dr. Afrin asks what next? The answer depends on what the community can accomplish to raise awareness about this illness.
I loved this ending to the book, and think it’s important advice for anyone living with a rare illness or who has a family member or friend living with a rare illness.
If you’ve read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it! If not, have you ever had a doctor that went above and beyond for you?