Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Diagnosis of the Acute Abdomen in Rhyme

Using mnemonics as an aid for learning vast quantities of information is often employed in medical education. Taking it a step further, the author of the textbook Cope's Early Diagnosis of the Acute Abdomen, later turned his book into 88 pages of doggerel which explains how to diagnose and treat patients with belly pain: The Diagnosis of the Acute Abdomen in Rhyme by 'Zeta,' (aka: Sir Zachary Cope.) This small volume has been sitting on my bookshelves at home for many years and what made me think about it is it turns up in Abraham Verghese's Cutting for Stone which I am currently reading. Zeta's little book is quoted by the fictional Dr. Ghosh and listed in Verghese's bibliography. Is it hard to imagine gut pain being funny? Consider this advice to the physician:
'The abdomen is like a stage
Enclosed within a fleshy cage,
The symptoms are the actors who
Act often with consumate art
The major or the minor part;
Nor do they usually say
Who is the author of the play.
That is for you to try and guess,
A problem which, I must confess
Is made less easy from the fact
You seldom see the opening act,
And by the time that you arrive
The victim my be just alive.'
'The leading or principal symptoms are four,...
Distension, rigidity, vomiting, pain.'
(as seen in the illustration by Peter Collingwood)
OK, not ROTFL, but maybe easier to remember than a regular textbook.

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