I can never remember the difference between aneurysm and embolism, nor which is the diastolic and systolic. Though my father had absolutely no patience about most things, he would endlessly repeat definitions of medical terms. He was a gynecologist/obstetrician, and I suspect he felt his kids were somehow genetically predispositioned to learning and understanding medicine, as if basic knowledge could be passed through genes instead of going to medical school. If he chose to talk to you, which was rare, it was mostly just to convey some medical information. Some of his favorite lines:
“You are going to catch tularemia from those rabbits.”
“You’re gonna throw an embolism, if you keep doing that.” (As if it were a baseball on opening day.)
When my pet mouse grew a huge lump on his neck. “It’s a goiter from an iodine deficient diet.” I had no idea where iodine came from so the next night, after work, my father brought the mouse (whom he openly hated) a rodent sized salt lick. It was too late though and the poor fellow lapsed into a coma. My father put him down. “I’m going to have to chloroform him. He won’t feel a thing.”
If my father taught (and re-taught) you a medical term, you were supposed to use it, not some slang you made up in your head, or heard from your cousins. Sentences like, “He stroked out,” were never spoken aloud in his presence, even in reference to his own father, our grandfather. We had to say, “He suffered from an ischemic stroke, and subsequently died.” No one could say the following about our maternal grandfather either: “He had a heart attack.” We had to say, “He lapsed into cardiac arrest, and subsequently died.” We were permitted to say, “He was dead before he hit the floor,” only because Southern speak trumps medical terms, like that childhood game where rock trumps scissors.
And if I thought he was picky about generalized medical terminology, he was a Nazi about gynecological terms. We could say, “ovaries, or “vagina” but never “cooter,” “hoo ha,” “walla walla,” or “baby maker hole.” Patients who called the house looking for him, attempted to leave garbled detailed messages, about things like, “my package is rotting off.” If we took the message, we translated into his medically acceptable format, such as “Mrs. Delaney suspects she has syphilis,” and when he called that person back, the conversation went from there.
Sometimes people called the house hysterical, so maintaining a good medical presence was not only adhering to Dad’s rules of the house, but seemed to have a calming effect on the patient. More than once, a patient later told Dad to thank his wife for her stabilizing phone presence. Little did they know they were talking to a 10 year old child about their intercourse problems.
Occasionally there was the random phone call from a patient, who for some reason or another called us, instead of one of their other doctors, or zipping to the emergency. I prided myself on these calls because to me it meant I gave good medical phone service, possibly the best in the area. His patients called him…whenever.
Patient (crying/half screaming on the phone): EMERGENCY. I HAVE AN EMERGENCY.
Me (into our phone): What is the nature of your emergency, Ma’am?
Patient: I left my knitting needles on the sofa. My husband sat on one, and it’s stabbed him in the ass. It’s hanging out of his butt – right now.”
I wrote the message to my father: “Patient’s husband stabbed in gluteus maximus with knitting needle. Please advise,” and hopped on my bike and took the note to him at the barn where he was fiddling with the tractor that wouldn’t start.
And then, there was this call…
Patient: Help me. For God’s sake. My husband just drank the glass of piss I was bringing into your office for my pregnancy test. What should we do?”
I transcribed that note: “Patient’s husband has ingested glassful of urine. Please advise. ”