Post 50 University Professor Gives Hospital Consultant Lesson In Good Manners


          The next patient’s problem was apparent to anyone with a sensitive nose, long before the team arrived at his bedside. The smell was that of a putrid decomposing, animal carcase. Powerful and offensive, the odour drifted freely down the ward, undiminished by the deoderant that had been placed on the bedside locker. It was the smell of a badly infected in-growing toenail.
When Mr Rathbone, the Consultant Surgeon and his team reached the patient, the screens were pulled round the bed.
'Sister, please remove that foul dressing and let us see the nature of this disagreeable problem,' the consultant said, wrinkling his nose in disgust. Sean, the Registrar, had never seen anything quite like it.
As the bandage was removed, the smell became  overpowering. The toenail was lost in a sea of pus and the whole foot was swollen and covered in livid red streaks. The pain caused must have been intense.

‘Possem secare eius pedes oderem removere,’ commented Mr Rathbone grinning at the medical students. (‘I could cut off his foot to get rid of the smell’).

The patient was a tall, gaunt, distinguished-looking man, with white hair and a thin, whispy beard of the same colour. He looked surprised, then angry.

‘Aut linguam exideam ut humanitates emendet,’ he replied coldly, as he glared at the surgeon, over the top of his half-moon glasses. (‘Or cut off his tongue to improve his manners’).


Mr Rathbone looked startled, then ashamed.

‘Look,’ he stammered, red-faced, ‘I’m most awfully sorry, I never....’

But the patient interrupted him and gave him a lesson, both in good manners and in Latin grammar. 
‘Actually, Mr Rathbone, you were in error when you used a ‘purpose clause’ – the purpose of the amputation would be to get rid of the smell. In such a clause, the verb should be in the subjunctive mood. Therefore to be absolutely correct, you should have used ‘ut’ instead of the infinitive. You should have said ‘Possem secare eius pedes ut odorem removerem’.”

‘Sir, I apologise most sincerely,’ Mr Rathbone began again, ‘I wouldn’t have spoken in Latin had I any idea....’

Again he was interrupted. ‘You wouldn’t have spoken in Latin had you known I was the Professor of Classical Studies at the University, but it wouldn’t have mattered had I been unable to understand. Is that what you were trying to say?’

Everyone on the ward round, Sean, Sister, her nursing staff, as well as all the medical students, knew that was exactly what the consultant intended. Yet none of them was particularly upset that Mr Rathbone was getting his ‘comeuppance’! Ever since becoming a consultant, Mr Rathbone had criticised and demeaned his students and junior staff. He delighted in embarrassing them in front of their peers or in front of the nurses. Now that he was on the receiving end, he was clearly not enjoying it. There was a long, uneasy silence.

Finally, Mr Rathbone spoke. ‘Sir, I apologise. I should have known better. May I be allowed to start again?’

‘You may,’ the Professor replied, though his censure of the consultant remained incomplete. ‘I have come to seek your advice about this exceedingly painful toe. I know the smell is offensive. I had presumed that as a doctor, you would understand the odour is a symptom of my condition, not a sign of poor personal hygiene. So, yes, it would be best if you started again and perhaps this time we can conduct the consultation in a more civilised fashion.’

Sean had never seen his consultant so visibly shaken. As the round continued, as each bed was reached, he listened in silence as the house officer presented the patient to him, agreed with the management that he suggested, and then moved on without comment.

The round was completed in record time, and Mr Rathbone then departed without a single word or a backward glance. Presumably, he wanted to lick his wounds in private!

‘Well, what did you make of that?’ Sean asked when the consultant was safely out of earshot.

‘Thoroughly deserved,’ Sister replied. ‘Let’s hope it’s taught him a lesson.’


Thought for the day

Away with him! Away with him! He speaks Latin.             William Shakespeare  1564 – 1616



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