Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Talking the Talk

(Contributed by Dr. Jessica Levy)

These drug ads on TV just crack me up. The latest insane ad I’ve noticed is for some Rheumatoid Arthritis drug, where a woman exclaims: “I knew Rheumatoid Arthritis could be painful, but I didn’t know it could affect my joints!” What are you, a moron? What did you think “arthritis” meant? When you were diagnosed, did your doctor fail to explain what RA means? Did you fail to ask? It’s a pretty significant disease. I would think any doctor would mention the joint thing. But, you never know. And some people don’t ask.

I spend probably more time than I should bemoaning the state of health education in modern schools. People are either undereducated about health, or self-educated. Granted, how you teach a room full of teenagers anything, I’ll never know. I paid a lot of attention in high school and worked really hard, but only because I knew I wanted to go to vet school. In any case, it didn’t really work for me, and in spite of all my efforts I was a B or C student at best. Some stuff I was good at, like history and languages and reading, and some stuff like math and sciences just failed to make an impression on me.

Of course, the school system was a little wacky, too (aren’t they all). In 11th or 12th grade all the teachers went on strike for 3 months. What a deal! It was awesome! And the school year still wrapped up right on time. Oh, yeah, at first there was some whining about “how are we going to fit all this important information into the short time we have left”, but apparently they figured it out.

That’s almost as good as my nephew’s school burning down 2 weeks before summer break. My sister said it was every kid’s dream come true. Apparently a forest fire got a little too close. Luckily it was a weekend, so no one was in class, and in Israel all the buildings are made of stone, so the school wasn’t razed to the ground or anything, but the windows blew out and the walls were blackened. And school was closed for the year.

I’m sure we had some sort of health education in high school, but I can’t remember any of it. We had biology class, and I remember dissecting frozen fish. A gym teacher once told us we knew nothing about our bodies, but then wasn’t inclined to explain it herself.

After vet school, it took me a couple of years to realize that I no longer spoke English. Instead I spoke “medicalese”, and I had to relearn a lost language in order to communicate with my clients. Medicalese was easy for me, because my dad was a doctor and Mom was an English major, and people who visited us used to comment on how my parents spoke “like something out of a book”. Even today, my dad speaks the most grammatically correct Hebrew you’d ever want to hear. No slang in our house!

I try to make medicine as simple and easy to understand as possible. But it’s like trying to speak Spanish to someone whose vocabulary consists of “Una mas cervesa, por favor!” What I need is a cartoon textbook of physiology, a graphic novel of basic health and healing. Anybody out there got one?

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