The Austin Chronicle


Reviewed by Wayne Alan Brenner, August 13, 2004, Books

Bitten: True Medical Stories of Bites and Stings

by Pamela Nagami

St. Martin's Press, 352 pp., $24.95 Pamela Nagami can tell you a thing or two about people's faces being hideously disintegrated by bacteria. That's because she's a doctor of internal medicine and infectious diseases with the Southern California Permanante Medical Group, and she's been around, and she's already written two books – Maneater and The Woman With a Worm in Her Head – that document similar insults to living meat and marrow. What she's focusing on now, in Bitten, is the misery and degradation that can result when we run afoul of the teeth and piercing instruments of our cherished wildlife – and of our fellow humans.

From tsetse flies whose bites transmit deadly trypanosomes, to humongous crocodiles whose jaws can chomp a human in half; from the colony of animals called Portuguese man-o'-war, to the people who, for one reason or another, dentally assault other people, this book provides a tasty buffet of incidents and information. Besides relaying her own doctorly experiences, Nagami has researched like a woman possessed (by a book deal, perhaps) and so provides many vivid examples from historical and contemporary medical literature.

This easily parsed volume could, according to the McCormick Method of summation, be alternately titled Look Out: Australia! (Take a closer look at the McCormick method) What you might want to invest in before reading, though, is a tube of Ben-Gay for your neck. Because descriptions of what the bite of just local animals can do to our all-too-human flesh will likely have you looking over your shoulder or compulsively scanning the ground to make sure you don't fall victim to creatures that can fuck you up real bad.

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