I’m fascinated by the power of spin, such as that put on a high profile politician’s grandfather, a notorious horse thief, who was hung for his crimes. This was re-modelled: the grandfather was a very notable historical figure, dying at a ceremony being held in his honour when the platform on which he was standing collapsed beneath him.
I also love the hidden messages in stock phrases. Being a doctor I generally try and avoid saying, ‘That’s very interesting.’ Medically interesting is absolutely the last thing in the world you would want to be. Medically dull should be the pinnacle of one’s lifetime achievement. As soon as my eyes start sparkling and I lean forward in my chair, you can be sure that the diagnosis is not going to be great news for you. Terrific for me, possibly, as it could be the most fascinating thing I’ve seen in months. But for you, not so good.
Phrases such as ‘I’ll just run a few tests,’ could mean, ‘I’ve got absolutely no idea whatsoever what’s wrong with you, but a trawl through your bodily fluids may produce an answer.’ Or it could be as blunt as, ‘Your liver seems to be shot to pieces, but I think I’d better see all the numbers on paper (doubtless in red) before I break it to you.’
‘See you again soon,’ could be that simple or, ‘Frankly, you’re looking really unwell. I doubt that you can make it through the next few days. Better come back.’
Medical acronyms can be fun. On Sundays we used to have a regular stream of LOL CIC, ie ‘little old lady; collapsed in church’. GOK is the diagnosis of God Only Knows. TBF is to be avoided, being Total Body Failure. One of my colleagues used to write J P FROG in the notes which meant ‘just plain … run out of gas,’ (TBF really). TATT (tired all the time) is really useful. ‘Well the diagnosis is clear: you have Tatt. Take 2 aspirin, take up tap dancing and see me in a month.’
Ladies have earnestly informed me that they’ve had an ex-directory, or an extra-ectomy which, after some thought, is a hysterectomy. A Black-and-Dectomy turned out to be a prostate op. Distalgesic, a historically useful tablet have been requested by the much more jolly Disco-gesics and Digestolastics. Lactulose, for constipation, has become Vast-A-Loose which is much more graphic, almost onomatopoeic. A patient describing himself as a Brochial Spasmatic requested a Ventokill inhaler; it leaves you breathless in anticipation to know what happened to him when he used it.
It’s great when I ask, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ And get, ‘Prostrate.’ Generally, I’m not going to take this lying down, so try to ascertain that it’s their prostate or general plumbing that’s at fault, not that they’re verging on a state of collapse. A patient once informed me that he had been born later on in life. Age 3, perhaps? Presumably his mother didn’t fancy the baby stage and felt that the trade-off for a rather unpleasant labour was worth it.
My gynaecologist father didn’t always display a massive sense of humour. Totally straight-faced, he wondered aloud how Fred, an ENT surgeon, could bear to spend all day looking down throats. My father did not, however, greet patients with ‘At your cervix.’ He told us that one of his friends was asked in his final exams what the symptoms of phosphorus poisoning were.
Fishing wildly his friend replied, ‘Fluorescent stools.’
‘Ah,’ replied the examiner. ‘A flash in the pan?’
My father’s GSOH challenges skipped a generation luckily for me, yet he imbued into me his love of gynaecology. So I must push off now as I’m needed at the orifice.