This post comes with a warning, as the title suggests.
If medical matters make you squeamish or you are anti-vax, then please avert your eyes now.
The past six weeks have hit home for me how one of my chosen professional subject specialisms – medicine and well-being – works in practice in a real-life emergency, life-or-death situation.
The kind of thing that a paramedic, nurse, doctor or surgeon takes in their stride as part of their daily work: saving people’s lives.
If you’re a copyeditor, you’ll know that finding typos and helping to create text that is accurate and reads clearly for the audience it is intended for won’t directly save anyone’s life. Yet while you are as invisible as Casper the Friendly Ghost, it’s still very important work.
If you’re working on medical texts, flagging up a medication name that’s been corrupted by autocorrect or elsewhere in the process will help the person reading it, who may either be undertaking medical training or be an already-qualified practitioner at the end of their tether, studying the text you’ve worked on as part of their continuous professional development (CPD). Training that happens alongside work which is physically and emotionally demanding; training that helps them make better decisions clearly at high speed, when minutes and seconds make the difference between whether someone lives or dies. Those medical acronyms are a medical shorthand that enables complex information to be communicated at high speed so that a team knows what to do.
If and when you do find yourself working in this fascinating field, it’s useful to remember the famous medics’ motto, “Do no harm,” as far as is humanely possible. Better to query than not query, and if in doubt, then just don’t. But do go ahead and query anyway.
Medicine is a field that constantly advances; one that aims to prolong, and improve the quality of, life – not just for humans but also animals. Many findings for humans work their way into veterinary medicine too.
And things have come a long way since the days of the (back then, exclusively male) Victorian quacks, whose bloodied aprons were a sign of their professional prowess. Ever watched the TV series Quacks? Rory Kinnear’s character Robert Lessing is a fictionalised Robert Liston*, the real-life British surgeon renowned for his speed and skill in the Victorian era (“The fastest knife in the West End,” according to author Richard Gordon), and one of the first of his profession to employ the use of anaesthetics (back then, ether) in surgery. So we have him to thank for that. His mortal remains, reboxed courtesy of the Royal College of Surgeons, can be found in the catacombs of London’s Highgate Cemetery. On a top shelf, natch. I’d be more than happy to introduce you.
Medicine’s ultimate aim is, of course, to cheat nature and the inevitable unknown that awaits us all for as long as possible. Nature can be beautiful, healing, and conducive to well-being. It’s also a brutal and indiscriminate force to fight when it’s trying to steal the living breath from your one remaining parent.
But not today, and not this time.
* Worth a read: ‘Time Me, Gentlemen’: The Fastest Surgeon of the 19th Century.