A Memo to Me. (Written circa 1955)
I'm at the stage of life when it is necessary to start eliminating the trivia of a lifetime. Among the cards commemorating birthdays, anniversaries and certificates of all shapes and sizes and the endless albums of photographs, I came across some lecture notes from my earliest clinical years. I was always a prolific note taker so I thought I would review some of my student surgical notes to see if they were as good as I thought (things aren't always!). The notebook that I chanced upon was on abdominal surgery. As I reached the end of the topic I noted that I had scratched in a personal note to myself which read 'The Acute Abdomen in rhyme, be sure to read it. Prof says it is brilliant and hilarious!'
It was forgotten of course, until the message jumped out at me after fifty-five years. I obviously had to take prompt action. I started my search pursuing the usual channels. Secure in my knowledge that 'Mr. Google' knows everything, I typed in the name of the book and found it had been written in the forties by Sir Zachary Cope. Sir Zachary was already internationally famous for his knowledge and text book on acute abdominal surgery. It was the recognized definitive benchmark on this topic in the world. It was published continuously by Sir Z from 1947 to about 1987 and thereafter continues to be updated by a surgeon who had served as his House surgeon.
Not long after the acclaim of his book (and many other publications) Sir Zachary, who despite his protestations to the contrary was something of a poet and a humorist, began work on the book published in 1947, that was to be called "The Diagnosis of the Acute Abdomen in Rhyme". He wrote under the pen name of 'Zeta'. It is this work and its genius in maintaining scientific accuracy with his poetic humour that is fascinating.
Part of his preface goes like this:
"Well, wait and see, at least this I can state
A rhymster needs to think and concentrate,
And chose his words more carefully than those
Who oft repeat themselves in common prose.
Of course I do not claim to be a poet
And at the outset I would have you know it;
So look not for the fanciful sublime
Nor coloured metaphors in my plain rhyme;
My aim, which well may be I shall not reach
Is to amuse you while I try to teach.
So in the future when in doubt who knows?
Some couplet may help you to diagnose."
He goes on into the general principles and with extraordinary prescience in 1947 anticipates the replacement of clinical skills with technology.
This is how he puts it:
"The diagnostic problem of to - day
Has greatly changed - the change has come to stay;
We all have to confess, though with a sigh
On laboratory tests we much rely
And use too little hand and ear and eye.
We culture this, we plant out that with care,
And on the plates with hope we daily stare;
He finishes this paragraph,
"..........but now there is the danger
That student to the patient may be stranger,
And though he deal with culture-tube with ease
Forget the signs and symptoms of disease."
I couldn't have said it better myself!
More about Sir Zachary soon.
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