Old Wives' Tales
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Legend: Humorous accounts of examinations performed on patients.
Example: [Collected via e-mail, March 2008]
Origins: We've been running into versions of this list since 2002. As is common with such offerings, the number of entries fluctuates over time, as does the order of the items.
Other versions of the list include these entries:
I was performing a complete physical, including the visual acuity test. I placed the patient twenty feet from the chart and began, "Cover your right eye with your hand." He read the 20/20 line perfectly. Now your left." Again, a flawless read. Now both," I requested. There was silence. He couldn't even read the large E on the top line. I turned and discovered that he had done exactly what I had asked; he was standing there with both his eyes covered. I was laughing too hard to finish the exam.As to which are reliable accounts of actual incidents and which are not, it's impossible to say. Medical lore is rife with such tales (always told as true, mind you), like the hoary offering about the irate patient who'd seen his doctor scribble "s.o.b." on his chart and was halted in his ravings at his physician by that long-suffering soul's pointing out that it stood for "short of breath."
Dr. Matthew Theodropolous, Worcester, MA
A lady walked into a pharmacy and spoke to the pharmacist. She asked, "Do you have Viagra?"
"Yes," he answered.
She asked, "Does it work?"
"Yes," he answered.
"Can you get it over the counter?" she asked.
"I can if I take two," he answered.
Some of the entries on this list are easy to dismiss as reworkings of well-traveled urban legends or jokes.
Entry #5 (bedridden old lady) is but a reworking of a joke that has been told numerous ways over a span of many decades.
[Elgart, 1951]Entry #2 (big breaths) is another old joke, one generally told in one of these two forms:
Reporter: "To what do you attribute you old age?"
95-year-old-woman: "I've eaten moderately, I work hard, I do not drink or smoke and I keep good hours."
Reporter: "Have you ever been bedridden?"
Old Woman: "Yes, sure I have, but don't put that in the paper."
[Sawhney, 2004]Entry #6 (eating of KY Jelly, a lubricant) seems to be a variation on a number of anecdotes about contraceptive gels mistaken for foodstuffs (e.g., the "Jelly Babied" tale in which a woman attempts to sue a pharmacy over her resulting pregnancy because she'd been eating on toast the contraceptive gel prescribed for her rather than applying it internally).
A medical practitioner was examining his patient who happened to be big-breasted but hard of hearing. He put his stethoscope to her chest and said, "Big breaths."
The woman replied, "Yes, they used to be bigger."
The doctor examining a little-girl with his stethoscope said, "Big breaths."
"Yeth, and I'm only twelve."
Other entries from the list are, at the very least, implausible.
Entry #8 (whistling resident) also seems implausible, because it's hard to imagine a resident's being allowed to form the habit of whistling to himself while examining patients without any of those who oversaw his work disabusing him of the custom, and primarily because by the time a doctor is serving his residency (which means he has already weathered being both a medical student and an intern), very little should faze him, certainly not his having to perform routine pelvic examinations.
Entry #2 (wife describes husband's cause of death as "massive internal fart") is at least somewhat plausible, since people unused to medical terminology can all too easily mishear unfamiliar terms as something quite different from what they really are.
While Entry #4 (multi-patched patient) could happen (patients do indeed make such mistakes with medicines), it reminds us of this joke:
An overweight man visits his doctor to complain about his lack of a sex life. The doctor swiftly concludes that it's the man's extra poundage that is interfering with his ability to perform, so he tells the man to walk five miles every day.Barbara "the running of the bull" Mikkelson
Two months later, the man calls in and asks to speak to the doctor. "So, how are things going?" asks the physician. "Has your sex life improved?"
"How the heck should I know?" says the man. "I'm
Last updated: 11 April 2008
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