Dr. Walter C. Alvarez says that he receives one thousand letters a year from people who are mystified about the names of diseases given to them by physicians.
People who write Dr. Alvarez say the doctors told them that they have Addison's Disease, or Marie Strumpell's diease, or Osgood Schlatter's Disease. According to each correspondent, their doctor said he was too busy to stop and explain any further. This lowered the respect of his patient for him; it left the patient worried and dissatisfied, and it caused him (or her) to wonder if all doctors are equally unkind.
One particularly disturbed doctor's patient wrote that the doctor said he had a "CVA," which meant that the patient had a "cerebro vascular accident"—in other words a stroke! Why did not the doctor say "stroke"?
The distinguished Dr. William Bennett Bean, of the University of Iowa, a most brilliant and delightful medical writer, hates medical gobbledegook. In a recent article, he said he suspected that some doctors write in a hard-to-understand jargon so as to conceal from themselves the fact that they do not know much about what they are trying to say!
This all leads up to the fact that recently Dr. Robert E. Rothenberg compiled a New American Medical Dictionary and Health Manual, which is designed to help those laymen who wish they could understand what the doctor just told them they
For instance, I open the book and see "Krukenberg Tumor." This is a cancer of the ovaries which results from a dropping-down upon them of cancer cells that have come away from a cancerous stomach. The book is well illustrated, to show where the different organs are and what they look like. The book lists the several important bones of the body, also the many organs of the body. There is an excellent list of the abbreviations that are so commonly used as shorthand and slang by doctors and interns and nurses working in hospitals. For instance, no intern would be caught dead saying a "basal metabolic rate"; he would say a B.M.R.
Once one of America's most distinguished physicians said to a poor farmer, "The trouble with you is that your N.P.N. (non-protein nitrogen) is too high." What he should have said was, "Your kidneys are failing."
Dr. Rothenberg's book can be so helpful. Certainly every public library ought to have one handy in the reference room. But more silly gobbledegook are the statements some make about sin, the quintessence of all horrors in our world—such statements as these:
"Sin is the upward stumble in man's progress."
"Sin is the disagreeable hindrance to the smooth ongoing of the social machinery."
"Sin is goodness in the making—just the backward pull of outworn good."
"Sin is psychic rebellion—nothing more nor less than egotistic abnormality."
"Sin is youthful indiscretion."
"Sin is a nightmare caused by too much appetite and too little digestion."
Of sin and its devilish destructions we can say what Shakespeare wrote: "I could a tale unfold whose lightest word would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood, Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres, Thy knotted and combined locks to part, and each particular hair to stand on end, Like quills upon the fretful porcupine."