Diagnosing Body of Proof

I see the body, but not the proof.
I’ve done it again. Ruined another good television show because I can’t get beyond the medical premise. I stopped watching The Good Wife (too heavy) to tune into Medical Examiner Light, also known as Body of Proof.

I consider the show the same way I do a Moliere play: get past the absurd premise and everything else is logical. Body of Proof’s initial premise, that a neurosurgeon would change professions to become a medical examiner due to  tingling in the hands of unknown origin, doesn’t leave me tingling with excitement, in the hands or anywhere else.

Paraesthesias are tinglings, or pricklings of sections of skin. For example, when your hand falls asleep, you’ve had a paraesthesia. Family Practice Notebook.com lists 55 causes of paraesthesias. In this post, I will try to figure out which malady afflicts Dr. Megan Hunt.

What’s wrong with this woman?
First, I ruled out HIV and side effects of medicines to treat HIV, because television dramas are not about making social statements, at least not long term. And anyway, Philadelphia as a city has already contributed toward this cause with Philadelphia the movie, and the writers wouldn’t want to be considered derivative.

I was also able to rule out Leprosy: no skin lesions. I mean, look at the picture!  It’s Dana Delany, babe, no signs of leprosy here!

I considered the six connective tissue diseases listed on the site and excluded them all because they all have obvious physical symptoms. The site forgot a disease I always remember from medical school, Van Recklinghousen’s Neurofibromatosis ( or Elephant Man’s disease). Think that could be what’s wrong? Take another look at that picture.  

Not malnutrition, either. Same reasoning.   

Then there are the central nervous system causes, such as a stroke or Transient Ischemic Attack. These are unlikely, as she has no residual effects other than the paraesthesias.

What about a brain tumor? She was a neurosurgeon, so how could she miss her own tumor? How about head trauma? Easy to dismiss: have you looked at Dana’s head and face? (Seriously, isn’t that what this show is really about? They didn’t cast Kathy Bates as the ME, after all. Oops. Bad male chauvinist-television-watcher.)

human brain
Brains, give us brains…
As to the diagnoses of brain abscess, Encephalitis, or vitamin B12 deficiency, we’re told that Dr. Hunt was a brilliant neurosurgeon prior to giving up her practice. Surely she’d make any of those diagnoses, requiring only simple blood tests, in her sleep. The same can be argued for all the entrapment syndromes such as Carpal Tunnel. One EMG and her treatment would have been underway.

Toxins and heavy metal exposure are easy to test for and the results rapidly known. No, the only thing toxic in this show is the concept of paraesthesias of unknown origin. (The medical term is idiopathic, and always makes me think of the Latin root word for idiot.)

Malignancies as the cause, such as Cancer, Paraneoplastic syndrome, or Plasma cell dyscrasias would be diagnosed by her internist. After all, she’s had the symptoms long enough to get divorced and find a new job. If she had one of these disorders, they would have been discovered by now.

Wait, where’s her brain?
We are left with a possible differential diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis, a slowly progressive muscular weakness that waxes and wanes. But an MRI of the optic nerves would rule that in or out. So it would not be unknown to someone who orders excessive tests and runs over budget (a character trait of our dear doctor/patient).

How about Chronic Relapsing Polyneuropathy? It affects the legs with weakness greater than arms. Dr. Hunt does not appear to have any weaknesses.

Finally (but also in the first place), how could a neurosurgeon without enough feeling in her hands to operate successfully perform multiple autopsies with those same hands?! She pulls out microscopic fragments without damaging them. Incredible!

This is my biggest problem with the show. How could a specialist in neurology, now many years out of medical school, remember all that is necessary in another specialized field of medicine like pathology to become a medical examiner? Why wouldn’t she re-train as a neurologist, or become a non-operating neurosurgeon? These positions would pay more and allow her to continue to use her same skill set.

I have the diagnosis! The only disease that causes paraesthesias without any co-existing hard findings is psychosomatic delusional behavior. She is symptomatic because she wants to star in her television show.

Watson, my old friend, having solved our case, it is time to smoke that meerschaum and eat a TV dinner. Turn on the telly to that American mystery show with the hot woman ME.

Dr. Lewis Preschel aka TheMadMutt. Wouldn’t you be Mad, too?


  1. Mary Saputo

    Sorry, doc. Like the show, I find this article a waste of time.

  2. Angela Parson Myers

    They explained her physical problem on the show as having been caused by an auto accident, if I remember correctly. I wondered why she couldn’t go into some kind of diagnosis instead of becoming a medical examiner, but hey…I like the show, too.

  3. Dr. Lewis Preschel

    Hey, don’t get me wrong I like the show too, because its fun (and the logic within the story line is actually excellent), but its premise is medically not well founded.
    I spoke with a friend whose boyfriend is a policeman. She asked him what is the most absurd part of most police series / detective series on television. His answer was the apartments where they lived. Most policeman afford studios not the Don Johnson penthouse from Nash Bridges. The same thing applies to this diagnosis. I must have missed the history of an auto-accident, but even so, MRI’s and EMG will sort out the nature of traumatic injuries.
    The show is comparable to the Dummies’ guide to Medical Examiners experience. But those books are entertaining and that is all television is supposed to be.
    Thanks for reading my essay.
    Hope my writing is more palatable in the future.
    Once again I like the show, maybe that’s why CBS moved the Good Wife to Sunday.

  4. j

    This is an interesting article. It’s always interesting to deconstruct tv shows and analyze them from a rational point of view. I found this article informational and I walked away with new knowledge.

    I don’t understand why there are such strong negative comments, if you can’t give constructive criticism or praise , why give any comments at all?

  5. Francine Garson

    I love your writing and clever sense of humor, and you’ve given me one more reason to spend most of my time reading, not watching TV!

  6. barbara

    logic, logic……..who expects real logic from a tv show.

  7. Art Frank

    As shows go, this one is decent. I much preferred the British equivalent, Body of Evidence, but the Brits put more effort and less glitz into their productions. As far as it goes, I think that Dana’s sister Kim might have been better casting. Better looking , I think, more serious and better demeanor for somebodywho makes their living by exploring the internals of cadavers, but I don’t produce the show. I just watch it, like millions of others. The only difference is I frequently watch the cable with one eye while the other is on the screen of the laptop. It takes the pain out of the query process. Hooray for multitasking. In regard to the medical reason that she switched to ME, I always thought that the patient that she said died was a Master of the Universe, and that the ambulance chasers nailed her so bad that there wasn’t a malpractise insurer east of Mars who was willing to provide her coverage. Like Dr. Hunt says, she can’t kill the patients , the are already dead. That makes malpractise coverage moot. The show is fiction after all, and does what it is supposed to do, entertain you for an hour and keep your mind off all the bad stuff that is happening in the world and unavoidable on the news. The true test is what does Dr. Doug Lyle think of the show? For my opinion, if that is worth anything, it is far superior to all the inane reality shows on the tube. Bravo for Dana Delaney as Dr. Hunt, Medical Examiner! Art Frank

  8. Dr. Lewis Preschel

    Art, although Dr. Hunt has stated that she is worried her loss of dexterity caused the death of her patient at surgery, I don’t remember her verbalizing the worry about malpractice. Although in today’s medical environment that might be reality tv. We are losing too many experienced physicians and especially surgeons because of this situation. In the long run all our care suffers, less practitioners with less experience, making those left behind work harder, faster and less efficiently. Don’t underestimate experience as a teacher, although don’t let someone gain new experiences at your surgery.
    But back to the Dr. Hunt who said, “You can’t kill a dead person.” or something to that effect. The writers have tried to make it something noble, she took herself out of play because she was no longer able to function at her A game level.
    Would that every physician were so circumspect.
    It is still a fun show, but medically not as accurate an environment as some others, ie Rizzoli and Isles. As stated in other comments on this blog, maybe Dr. Gerritsen took a more active part in that show than the medical consultant for this one.

Comments are closed.