Hungry doctors make gross food associations

One possible reason for the food preoccupation might be doctors' (strong) stomachs, Dr Lakhtakia suggests.
Photo / Thinkstock
One possible reason for the food preoccupation might be doctors' (strong) stomachs, Dr Lakhtakia suggests. Photo / Thinkstock

Snatched meals between operations and procedures may explain doctors' stomach-churning habit of comparing tumours, infections and skin outbreaks to food, an expert has claimed.

Culinary terms used in the medical literature include "anchovy sauce" to describe pus from a liver abscess, "cottage cheese" thrush infection, "oat cell" lung cancer and "sago spleen".

Among other examples highlighted by pathologist Dr Ritu Lakhtakia are "currant jelly" sputum, inflamed "strawberry cervix" and gastrointestinal tumours that look like "mushrooms" or "cauliflower florets".

A complete dish is used to identify the skin condition tinea versicolour, characterised by its "spaghetti and meatball" appearance.

Dr Lakhtakia, from Sultan Qaboos University in Muscat, Oman, wrote in the journal Medical Humanities: "A host of references to the aromas, shape, colour and texture of food have re-informed and stimulated generations of physicians to identify and understand disease.

"They have piqued interest in foods from lands afar and introduced an unsought dimension and enrichment to the medical lexicon."

Dairy products were said to feature prominently. Necrotic tissue exuded "creamy" pus, "milk patch" described the appearance of healed inflamed membranes surrounding the heart, while "cafe au lait" was a term applied to the tell-tale skin colouring associated with the genetic disorder Von Recklinghausen's disease.

One possible reason for the food preoccupation might be doctors' (strong) stomachs, Dr Lakhtakia suggests.

She adds: "A part of this curious tradition may owe its origins to practising physicians and researchers catching up on their meals in clinical side rooms or operating theatre offices, or with an inevitably cold platter eaten with eyes glued to a microscope.

"It is a wonder that, in the midst of the smells and sights of human affliction, a physician has the stomach to think of food at all.

"Whatever the genesis, these time-honoured allusions have been, and will continue to be, a lively learning inducement for generations of budding physicians."

- PAA

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