Archive for the ‘Language and medicine’ Category

Medicinal meter

May 3, 2014

For some years, I’ve been taking a diuretic with a long name that lots of people, including some medical personnel, have trouble pronouncing, though I don’t. What works for me is that the name is in trochaic tetrameter (with a final short foot):

hydrochlorothiazide: HY dro CHLo ro THI a ZIDE

Trochaic tetrameter is the meter of most English folk verse (folk songs, nursery rhymes, etc.), many advertising slogans, sayings, and more. People didn’t frame these with the trochaic tetrameter pattern in mind; they chose expressions according to what “sounded good” to them — that is, according to an implicit or unconscious aesthetic.


Poisoned land

September 14, 2013

In the September 19th New Yorker, mail (under this title) from Arthur P. Grollman, M.D. (Distinguished Professor of Pharmacological Sciences, Stony Brook University School of Medicine):

Elif Batuman, in her piece on kidney disease in the Balkans, describes various theories addressing the etiology of the disease Balkan endemic nephropathy, or ben (“Poisoned Land,” August 12th & 19th). Over the past fifty years, many of the hypotheses Batuman mentions have been eliminated by rigorous scientific research. The crucial exception, and now the most widely accepted cause, is aristolochic acid, an environmental toxin from seeds of the aristolochia plant, which has been shown to be present in the kidney and urothelial tissues of patients with ben. We believe that aristolochic acid contaminates wheat grain, which is likely the primary route of toxin ingestion in the Balkans.



June 7, 2013

Heard in television ads for cancer treatment centers, the phrase investigational drugs. From an FDA site on “Access to Investigational Drugs”:

Investigational or experimental drugs are new drugs that have not yet been approved by the FDA or approved drugs that have not yet been approved for a new use, and are in the process of being tested for safety and effectiveness.

This passage treats investigational and experimental as synonyms in the drug context — but then the site goes on to use investigational exclusively. This specialized use of investigational (as opposed to the transparent general use ‘of or relating to investigations’) seems to be fairly recent — recent enough that it’s not in the dictionaries I’ve consulted. It seems to have replaced experimental as the appropriate technical term for drugs undergoing testing, perhaps because some people in the relevant community had come to feel that experimental no longer sounded sufficiently technical, but had become part of ordinary language.


Acronym of the week

May 1, 2013

From the NYT Science Times yesterday, in ” ‘Cured of AIDS’? Not Yet” by Donald G. McNeil Jr.:

“We should seek out, test and get people into treatment as soon as we possibly can,” Dr. [Anthony] Fauci said. “That way, you can get people into the position the Visconti cohort is in.”

(“Visconti cohort,” for Viro-Immunologic Sustained Control After Treatment Interruption, is a shorthand way of referring to the patients studied by the Pasteur Institute, in France.)

Someone labored hard to concoct that acronym.

A bonus from the same article, this “split infinitive” that caught my eye:

In this country, it is unusual for an infected pregnant woman to not see a doctor even once before delivery.

I probably would have moved the not up in the structure, to give not to see, but I’m not sure why; I certainly have no aversion to so-called split infinitives. Perhaps the writer systematically prefers to keep VP adverbs (like not) with the VP they modify (so that the infinitive marker to then combines with a full, modified BSE-form VP); there are certainly writers who do.


Gamma linole(n)ic acid and borage

May 1, 2013

In Tuesday’s NYT Science Times, from “Really? The Claim: Evening Primrose Oil Soothes Eczema” by Anahad O’Connor:

It may not exactly be a household name, but evening primrose, a bright yellow plant native to North America, has a large following in the alternative medicine world.

The seeds of the plant contain essential fatty acids, which are used to make an oil that has a variety of uses as a dietary supplement and folk remedy. Its most popular use may be for eczema, the skin condition that affects as many as one in five people. Widely marketed and easy to find, primrose oil contains gamma linoleic acid, which is thought to help reduce skin inflammation without the side effects of other treatments.



March 14, 2013

On Tuesday I saw my family doctor, to have him remove the staples from the head wound I suffered in the Great Fainting Episode of March 4 (see my “vasovagal syncope” posting, here) and talk about my condition since then. It’s been slow and difficult going: unsteady on my feet (for several days I went back to using my cane to get around), terribly tired, sleeping badly, not always thinking clearly (lots of trouble recalling names), little appetite, and so on.

The CT scan at Stanford showed no brain injury, but my doctor said I had clearly suffered a concussion — he recalled a concussion from his own experience — and that it would be a slow recovery. I’m supposed to take things easy and not push myself. Not easy for me.


vasovagal syncope

March 5, 2013

Yesterday I suffered a fainting spell, which unfortunately sent me falling to the floor in my bathroom, doing some (superficial but dramatic) injury to my head and wiping out the toilet. (Men are currently at work fixing the property damage.) The fainting spell goes by the name vasovagal syncope in the technical terminology of medicine — an interesting term in all three of its parts.


Coming back to life

December 9, 2012

[TMI Warning: The following posting contains information, opinion, or reflection that some readers might find uncomfortably or unwelcomely personal, private, or intimate in topic or content: too much information, as the saying goes. As a general observation, I’m willing to go almost anywhere in my postings, including some places that some readers don’t want to go.]

A series of postings on coping with medical conditions and the treatments for them: (1) on the disruptions they cause in the usual patterns of life; (2) on the side consequences of the condition and the treatments; and (3) on existing conditions that continue to need attention while you cope with the very pressing one. Plus a more specific piece of (1), on sex and disability. Several of these postings will talk about sex in plain terms, with personal details, so if that bothers you, tread carefully in what you choose to read.

For me right now, the pressing condition is crippling osteoarthritis, the treatment is complete replacement of my right hip. Yesterday it was three weeks since I came home from the hospital, and things have been moving very smoothly since then. I’m walking at least 6 blocks a day, doing assorted exercises (and a lot of housework), and generally feeling great. Yesterday I picked up a four-legged cane, or quad cane as the things seem to be called in the assistive literature, so I now lope around indoors with my interrogative friend:

On the intimate front, however, the big news is that my dick is back to life (meaning, really, that my mind is back in its familiar groove of affording me a satisfying sex life, from keen desire on to happy endings). It was like a switch flipped four days ago and we went back to business at the old location, after months of hiatus (serious crippling pain is tremendously anerotic).


No PMNs seen

November 2, 2012

The final lab report on the synovial fluid that was aspirated on October 24th, which came in during the night, was terse:

Gram Stain: No PMNs seen. No organisms seen.

Culture: No growth 5 days. No Anaerobes isolated.

Clearly a case in which no news is good news: no organisms and no anaerobes is a good thing; the lab work was undertaken, after all, in the hope that nothing would be found. Surgery to replace my right hip, now scheduled for the 14th, can go on.

But what are PMNs?



October 27, 2012

This week’s installment of Arnold’s Hip Saga centered on Wednesday’s needle aspiration (term explained here), after weeks of hitches in getting the procedure set up. The point is to insert a needle into the hip joint, to extract — aspirate — fluid from the joint, and then to culture the synovial fluid to find out if there’s any infection in it (or whether it’s sterile, as it’s supposed to be). First, an etymological note on synovial (which apparently doesn’t have the etymology I thought it did), and then a brief encouraging report on Wednesday’s procedure.



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