Pretty much every disease-detection geek — which includes me, since I wrote a book about disease detectives — has read, at some point, the story “Eleven Blue Men” by Berton Roueche. Roueche was a journalist who worked for the New Yorker for almost 50 years, and for most of that time, he was responsible for the column “The Annals of Medicine,” which was created for him. “Eleven Blue Men” was the first installment. It ran June 5, 1948. It begins like this:
At about eight o’clock on Monday morning, September 25, 1944, a ragged, aimless old man of eighty-two collapsed on the sidewalk of Dey Street, near the Hudson Terminal. Innumerable people must have noticed him, but he lay there alone for several minutes, dazed, doubled up with abdominal cramps, and in an agony of retching. Then a policeman came along. Until the policeman bent over the old man, he may have supposed that he had just a sick drunk on his hands; wanderers dropped by drink are common in that part of town in the early morning. It was not an opinion that he could have held for long. The old man’s nose, lips, ears, and fingers were sky-blue.