Tuesday, 13 July 2010

'It's only words, and words are all I have..'

'Drink 6 cups of water today' is better than saying, 'Drink more fluids'. So saith the Oxford Handbook of Clinical medicine.

When doctors think about communication skills they are usually thinking about the way that we use words to speak to patients. But what about the words that patients use when speaking to us?

Many a time I've been alerted to an unknown fellow medic or health professional by them slipping in to the conversation phrases like, 'I think I've got a uti' or 'what do my bloods show?' or 'what do you make of this lesion?' Words that just give away some experience or knowledge.

Today I was taken aback by a wonderful 87 year lady of French extraction whose English is imaculate but whose accent is wonderfully French. When disucssing her cough she told me that it was difficult to  expectorate. I really don't think that anyone in my 32 years as a doctor has ever siad that to me before. I commended her for the excellentchoiceof words and she smilingly said, 'well it's from the Latin, I learned Latin for 7 years.'

Indeed as I pondered with her I dredged up my 3 years of Latin and just about worked out that the ex means something like from or out of, and of course pectus must mean chest, as in 'look at his pecs'!! I'd never thought of it before. Not exactly a Nobel prize winning disocvery, but just one of the many happenings in the life of a family doctor that makes life and work so vaired and enjoyable.

GPs don't have a huge amount of hi-tech at their disposal, but words remain a vital tool and are like the pen, are still mightier than the sword!
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