Thursday, November 29, 2012

Battling over Symbols

The Wand of Hermes, called the Caduceus, is a stand alone symbol that once represented the medical profession in the United States. The wand  consists of a staff with two serpents rampant.  The Wand is quite pretty. Hermes, or his Latin equivalent, Mercury, was the god of commerce. Like all Greek gods he had a variety of other jobs like protecting travelers, including bandits and  card players and any on the road.  Generally meeting the needs of  hustle-bustle. Hermes was as fast as Mercury. That's how the planet and the metal got their name. The Rod of Asklepios is in fact the historically correct symbol of the medical profession and employed world wide. It however, had to be radically redesigned in order to be pretty  Asklepious was the Greek god of Medicine, but his Rod is ugly and does not have a stand alone tradition. In all the statuary and  vase painted images I have seen, the Rod is held in the hand of Asklepios. As a symbol one is stuck with images of Asklepios holding the Rod and the single serpant  not so rampant, if verity is to be prized.  Do not believe symbols are powerless.As a stand alone symbol, the Rod of Asklepios in the original would look  like a fat club with a snake wrapped around it. From the temple reliefs and statuary it looks like something that would be carried by Alley Oop.  It's a saw-off then. Did the US go for pretty, but hopefully inaccurate as a representative of physicians; Fast Eddy, commerce, itinerant travelers, card sharks, banditry, and sharp practice. Or do we take UBS (Ugly But Satisfactory) and tart it up. If symbolism is a visible manifestation of an invisible ideal we don't have much of a choice.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Mummies Blankets

At the risk of being considered a sissy by those of  hard-nosed countenance, I have a paean to the pianist's and my mummy as we  use, on our beds today, the blankets they knit 60 years ago: both used by us as praise, remembrance and as a talasmanic connection to the past. The pianist's mother's blanket, a soft blue and brown and white in a zigzag pattern:  a strictly uniform, closer knitted, crisp and perfectly preserved. My mother's: a looser block knitted, tan, brown and orange with touch of white and tasseled. Both are beautifly finished as could be expected from these women in their 40's, knitters as they were then. My blanket is smaller than the pianist's since my mother was more impatient, so quit earlier to do other things. The blanket for the bed and chair gives warmth, comfort, and an embrace that reflects what they, as women, gave to us, along with the continuity they still provide. If they could look down today they would smile at the blankets they prized and are still prized and used today. When my mother provided me with my satin smooth blanket in infancy until I was three, it was my talisman of her when I slept and it gave comfort. The pianist and I can still celebrate the presence of our mothers today with the resumption of our  now knitted blankets. Why did I not realize in the years of my life from age 3 to 78 that the blanket would have kept me safe in that long  interval of time? Just a DOF! Dotty Old Fool!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


Write your own moral stand
and designate it as the high road
Scandalize those who don't walk it
Enjoy the heady view
Your standpoint allows it and your ramparts seem secure

You are worthy to gather the crumbs
You are worthy to eat the whole loaf


Your concrete doesn't bind
The stones loosen and roll
It's a long way to fall
All is vanity

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Wonders of Wax

In the early 70's the pianist and I, on impulse to fulfill our role as guides to the young minds of our children, embarked on family viewing of a programme called The University of the Air. At that time the television set was in what we called the TV room, a tiny room in which we had inserted sound proofing to the walls so as to avoid noise pollution disturbing the cultural sanctity of the rest of the house.  The programme was developed by CTV and began at 6 AM for a half hour with a variety of topics, presented largely as lectures. We had been given an electrical warming platter by a grateful patient so the pianist used it to keep our porridge warm as we all assembled at 6AM in little chairs to watch and listen as the lecturer discussed the Wonders of Wax for the half hour, or other equally dreary topics. This meant of course that we woke at the ungodly hour of 5:30AM to make breakfast before the programme. In retrospect, to have imposed this unconscionable event on three little children from 10 to 15 years of age, not withstanding the pianist and me, and our busy day, was education gone mad, breakfast interruptess, and well meaning insanity. Thank goodness the grumbling from the pediatric set soon brought an end to this misattempt at togetherness and we all went our own way without further necessity to ruminate on the wonders of wax. I do think however , given a topic like the wonder of wax, the real wonder is that CTV was able to continue this programme from 1966 to 1983. They probably got a Canada culture grant. Our mistake!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Dementia Defended

One of the early signs of dementia includes having to hunt for your own Easter eggs which you laid the day before. Then, yesterday, I performed the possible sin of repeating the same blog I  previously had written; different words, but the same context, and then failed to recognize it until too late, once published. I did that very thing last night with "The Surgical Scrub" and an earlier post called " Dirty Fingernails". One might think that it's easy to avoid duplication but the ageing brain often has a short term memory deficit and also, a less brisk collection of Betz cells with fewer stories, stored, to analogize about. I remember talking to my mother in the nursing home one day when she was ninety and it became apparent that she wasn't sure who I was. Then I said to her, "Mum, do you know who I am?"  She chuckled and said, "Your face looks familiar." Then she said, "If you want to know who you are, you can go ask the nurse!" I don't need to ask the nurse or anyone else who I am. Self knowledge is the greatest thing we can achieve in life. Mum provided me with the love that allowed me to love myself and enter the region of forgetfulness without fear of failure or the risk of exposure. If I write about the same thing again, I don't give a damn. That's just me! I have listened to the same old jokes and stories from the same people I admire, told many times to the same other people for years. It's like fine old wine, or a story, gilded, not tarnished, with the patina of long life. Why should oral always trump written, even though oral gets away with it because there is no record of repetition? For some inexplicable reason a subject might bear repeating simply for the thrill of inadvertently revisiting one's creation and savouring it again, tasting your old Easter eggs anew.

All Joking Aside

Out of interest, I travelled once to a alternative therapies conference on back pain. It was an interesting experience to listen to the diverse opinions and the seriousness with which the proponents of the treatments described their results. At a break in the conference for lunch I was seated next to a young women practitioner of a discipline with which I was not familiar. We engaged in a short conversation as she seemed very pleasant and was surprised when I told her I was a medical doctor. She said, " Pardon me for saying this, but why is it that medical doctor's handwriting is so illegible?" "Well", I said," it's because we are taught to write bad. In second year medicine, the Course, 'How to Write Bad 201' is taught." "How can that be?" she said credulously. I waited for a glint of humour in those eyes but it didn't appear. "Well," I said, piling it on, "we then can't be held responsible for what we wrote, since no one can read it but us!"  "Good heavens ," she said, " I didn't know that!" I looked for any sign of amusement but the was none to be found in that serious mien. Up the ante was my way to deal with the matter. Surely in that stretch she would see I was joking!  "Yes," I said, " and in the Course in third year medicine, 'How to Mumble, 301' we complete the skill set 'How to communicate without doing so'. That way we avoid any trouble such as 'You said this or that'." "Well", she said as she rose from the table, "I'm glad you told me that!" I could see that I was in deep trouble. She didn't get it. My humour fell flat. To disavow it now would be disingenuous and reaffirm what she wished to believe, probably in the first place. I had just trashed myself and medicine in the face of an attempt at ill advised humour in the wrong arena. I could imagine the furtive looks of disgust from the assembly in the coffee hour later. I slunk away and listened to the rest of the meeting in the shadows.  As so many of my loved ones have said before, "Why can't you ever be serious for once?"

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Surgical Scrub

In the usual course of events the referring family doctor would from time to time to attend the surgical procedure for their patient and assist with the surgery out of interest for the patient's care and the informed knowledge that was to be gained for the patient's after care, by doing. Certainly a desirable and attentive act to provide counsel to the family and longitudinal care for the patient. On the other hand, some family practitioners worked on a part time basis as professional surgical assistants when the patient's doctor was not available. Many of these doctors became very skilled and knowledgeable with respect to surgical techniques and their experience was enhanced since they assisted a wide variety of surgeons and absorbed the diverse skill sets that they observed. Every two weeks or so, a physician who was a long standing surgical assistant, helped me during one of my surgical days. We got on well and since we had a rather intense common interest in gardening it was often a topic we talked about. We were standing at the scrub sink for the first case of the day one morning and he was particularly effusive in respect to his enjoyment of surgery and particularly singled me out as a source of this delight. I must say that I was touched by his enthusiasm and my role in it. As we stood at the sink, and resumed talk of gardening, scrubbing our hands vigorously, cleaning our nails scrupulously, lathering hands and arms and wrists with the antiseptic soap, rinsing with copious amounts of water, we talked and time stood still. Basking in the glow of his approbation of what I thought was my surgical skill, he said, "Yes, I particularly like working with you because we scrub so completely and talk so long at the scrub sink that my gardening hands stay clean for my patients for days on end. That's why I enjoy coming with you every two weeks." He smiled at me with simple joy!