An Adage A Day …
by Lorien E. Menhennett
“A picture is worth a thousand words,” if you believe the common adage. Depending on the situation (and on the picture), that can be true. In the context of medicine, for example, you need pictures of human anatomy — not just words describing human anatomy — to learn about the body.
That said, another adage takes a different view: “The pen is mightier than the sword.” This speaks to the potential power of words over forceful actions, especially in diplomatic situations. (I could probably make a really bad surgical analogy here if I tried, but I’m not going to.)
In sum, pictures, actions, and words all have their respective places.
As a writer, I believe in the power of words, not only on their own, but also to shape our actions and our mental pictures of the world surrounding us. And when it comes to words, people have had plenty to say on the subject of medicine. In many cases though, what makes someone’s words memorable has less to do with what they say than with how they say it.
With that introduction, I would like to share some particularly memorable medical adages that I have collected. All of them come from a 27-page editorial that was published in 1928 (yes, you read that right) in The Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine. You can access the whole article online here.
The unlucky doctor treats the beginning of an illness; the fortunate doctor the end.
It is easy to get a thousand prescriptions, but hard to get one single remedy.
Before thirty, men seek disease; after thirty, diseases seek men.
Men worry over the great number of diseases; doctors worry over the small number of remedies.
– Pien Chiao
When you treat a disease, first treat the mind.
– Chen Jen
To avoid sickness, eat less; to prolong life, worry less.
– Chu Hui Weng
The highest duty of medicine is to get the patient well; of several effective remedies, choose the least sensational.
Physicians are many in title but few in reality.
Where the physician can do no good, let him do no harm.
To do nothing is sometimes a good remedy.
Science begets knowledge, opinion ignorance.
The art of healing has no more solid base than experience.
The art of medicine has almost no constant rule.
We should not impute the faults of the physician to his art.
Better an untried remedy than none at all.
For major ills, major remedies.
The art of medicine is to be properly learned only from its practice and exercise.
A man is as old as his arteries.
Disease is from of old and nothing about it has changed. It is we who change, as we learn to recognize what was formerly imperceptible.
Treat the man who is sick and not a Greek name.
Nature does not kill and does not heal. If there were consciousness in Nature, she would feel indifferent about what she is, viz., mere evolution.