A picture is worth 1,000 words, and the world today is full of symbols. Emojis share paragraphs of information. Logos inform us about what a company represents or does. Shapes and colors share messages of safety or caution on the road. Symbols are everywhere and understanding them brings deeper understanding to the world around us. Medicine is a field of precision, and that is precisely why it is so strange that such confusion exists as to which symbol should represent it.
Just as our vernacular has embraced the language of food to describe people, so too has the medical community used such language to describe disease.
In 1913, nine years before his death, the physician and medical historian Eugene F. Cordell gave his presidential address to the Medical and Chirurgical Faculty of the State of Maryland. His topic was the “The Importance of the Study of the History of Medicine.”
Black hellebore, a flower of the deepest black and with petals the sinister shape of blunted arrowheads, grows wild in the cool, mountainous regions of the Balkans. Despite its unintimidating label as the “Christmas rose,” the hellebore has a much darker history, one bespoken more by the flower’s ebony hue than by its innocuous nickname.
A few weeks ago, I was unhinging my jaw to swallow the proverbial firehose of information that is musculoskeletal medicine. At some stage between prying my mouth open and forcibly dislocating my temporomandibular joint (really the highest-yield medical procedure for medical students in the information age … I highly recommend it if you want to have at least a fighting chance at Step 1), the following scenario blossomed into my mind: A medical student from 1910 time travels to the present day to document out how medical training has changed, and he quickly takes note of a few other things.
Methods for letting blood out from a patient’s body to cure them of disease were described in ancient Ayurvedic texts from India as early as the 7th century B.C. and the practice was employed by civilizations such as the Mesopotamians, Egyptians and ancient Greeks. This treatment was based on the system of medicine known as ‘humorism,’ which posited that an excess or deficiency in any of the primary bodily fluids directly influenced a person’s health.
Medicine is rapidly evolving: new drugs, new devices and new techniques are constantly introduced to improve patient care. And yet, despite these many innovative advances, there are some mainstays of modern medicine that are thousands of years old and have withstood the test of time. Acupuncture is a form of alternative medicine that was developed in China approximately 4,000 years ago. Its intended purpose was to restore the body’s inner balance by placing needles at …