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Rx for health: Take two new books and call me in the morning

October 13, 2009 | 11:58 am

We check out and bag our own groceries at the supermarket; we park our own cars and bank online rather than bothering a teller; we fix our own computers. Small wonder, then, that we are increasingly called upon to make a preliminary diagnosis of our own medical problems before deciding whether to call the doctor.

For this last DIY challenge, at least, there are two big honkin' new health and medical manuals just out. Health-conscious patients and parents might want to have them on the bookshelf.

The Merck Manual Home Health Handbook--a consumer-oriented version of the standard Merck Manual that sits on most physicians' desks--has just been updated for a third time. Its 2,306 pages of text are written in everyday language by 300 medical experts from across the world. And it's available--of course--as an iPhone app as well.

The manual is organized in 18 sections that outline and describe disorders of every major system in the body, four sections that deal with specific health issues relevant to men, women, children and older people, a section on injuries and poisoning. It ends with a single section on "special subjects," which includes a description of common imaging tests and chapters on medicinal herbs and nutraceuticals and complementary and alternative medicine.

The manual, which lists for $39.95, seems best used after someone has been given a diagnosis--not so much as an exhaustive guide to treatment options but as a general overview, helpfully illustrated in many cases. But it will also tell you how to preserve a severed body part for possible reattachment at the hospital, how to perform the Heimlich maneuver for choking victims and how to spot signs of elder mistreatment--among many, many other things.

And if you're thinking of becoming a scriptwriter for "House," this is the manual for you, since it describes every arcane syndrome and disorder imaginable.

The American Academy of Pediatrics on Tuesday issued its revised and updated edition of "Caring for Your Baby and Young Child, Birth to Age 5." Intended as a comprehensive guide for parents and guardians, the AAP's 800-page tome outlines normal developmental milestones, describes common pediatric illnesses and injuries and what to do about them, outlines the schedule and purpose of childhood vaccinations and advises on temper tantrums. The newest edition also includes new chapters, reflecting new research on sleep, allergies (including food allergies), autism, multiple births, asthma and sickle-cell disease.

The AAP's guide sells for $22.00. And sure, you could find most of this stuff on the American Academy of Pediatrics' (or other less reputable) website. But for the 45 seconds it will take the parent of a young child to fall asleep once his or her head has hit the pillow, isn't a book a lot nicer than a laptop?

-- Melissa Healy