As The Romans Did

Last year, in the middle of the Preparation for Practice rotation I had in what would become my hospital, I had a couple of weeks with a consultant who likes to teach on ward rounds.

I like consultants who teach on ward rounds. I had just switched over from vascular surgery, mind, and I’d therefore become unused to having my presence acknowledged on ward rounds, let alone taught anything on them. And I do genuinely like that specific consultant, even if most of our interaction these days is based on him kindly doing medical reviews of my surgical patients and then me calling to ask if he would mind terribly translating his handwriting as I’ve been squinting at it for a half hour and cannot make head nor tail.

On a particular day, I was taken into a room and pointed at a pleasant gentleman in the corner and asked for a spot diagnosis.


I had an answer in my head, but the problem with spot diagnoses is that getting it wrong means inadvertently insulting someone’s appearance. Honestly, ask anyone who thought they had a perfectly normal neck until four medical students panicked and told them that they had a goitre. My dithering went on for a beat longer.


I studied Latin for four years. This threw me completely and I dithered a bit more.

“If you have too much of something…” came the prompt from my SHO.

I gave up and took a punt on my original answer. “Oh, OK,” I said. “He has polycythaemia rubra vera?”

Yes. Indeed.

“So,” I said to the SHO as we went back out to the notes trolley. “Hypothetically, how badly do you think he would take it if I told him that ‘polycythaemia’ is Greek?”




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