Feet First

“It is much more important to know what sort of a patient has a disease than what sort of a disease a patient has.” - Sir William Osler

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    Wednesday, July 20, 2011
    Don't Read This Post While Eating

    Medicine has long been apostrophized as a field in which its practitioners shield themselves behind a layer of fancy words, and rightly so. Sometimes though the words serve a useful purpose: if you have to discuss bodily functions, it helps to use a word that won't gross people out. A case in point is a word I came across in a gastroenterologist's report today: "scybalous." As in, "The patient passed a scybalous stool with mucus."

    What the hell does that mean? I wondered. Wormy? Skinny? Scythe-shaped? My imagination ran riot, and I was forced to look it up immediately. Turns out that scybalous is defined as "composed of hard feces" or "pebbly feces." Not an attractive thought to be sure, but using a word like "scybalous" distances the reader from the concept a bit. Gets your head out of the toilet, so to speak.

    My search led me to an online medical dictionary, one of those books it's impossible to stop reading. You may find me at that site for the forseeable future.

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