Medical Quotes

A few quotes on topics pertaining to medicine at large, EMS in particular, and the grand dance of humanity overall. Some are touching, some are wry. Hopefully all offer something useful for you.

All quotes are attributed where possible, although it’s possible some are apocryphal or mistaken; corrections are welcome. In terms of selection, we’ve made an effort to exclude some of the truly worn-out clichés that you’ve probably heard one too many times already, in favor of a sampling from a little further off the beaten path.

Updates occur when possible.

May I never see in the patient anything but a fellow creature in pain.

— Oath of Maimonides

I don’t like hurting people. Is that so hard to understand? When I go to bed at night, I can sleep easily, knowing that I fought for freedom, and for less suffering rather than more. That I stood by someone accused so that he would not have to stand alone.

I can’t know whether anyone is truly guilty or innocent, or what they deserve, and frankly, I don’t care. We all deserve at least one person on the damn planet willing to stand there next to us and fight on our behalf.

— Danielle E. Sucher, Legal Agility

You should bother, because EMTs are privileged to play in life’s great game. Too many unlucky people watch the action thunder by, stuck at a desk, or watching it on television at home.

Kelly Grayson

The most basic job of an EMT is to notice things and then wonder about them

— Thom Dick

He always said if there was any way he could help someone, he would.

Carolyn Delaney, on Joe Delaney

You have to keep the body going until the brain and the heart recover enough to go on their own.

Bringing Out the Dead, Joe Connelly

Given the fallibility of inference, the interviewer is well advised to stick closely to observations and be able to cite them. This skill requires training. The beginner may be overly impressed by brilliant intuitive leaps; the expert heeds intuition but realizes how unreliable it is. The beginner grasps for, and holds firmly to, an inference, sometimes in spite of contrary evidence. The expert makes the inference, cites the clues on which it is based, can offer alternative explanations, and discards the inference for a better one if contrary evidence emerges.

Current Medical Diagnosis & Treatment: Psychiatry (second edition), “Patient Interview”

It was a common practice to light a bonfire close to any shipwreck that could not be rescued immediately. This was done to let the surfmen have enough light to see the shipwreck, help keep the watching surfman warm, and let the survivors of the shipwreck know that they had not been abandoned.

I think the current generation of young people are terrific. I mean, they’re so much smarter, and so much broader, and so much more altruistic. At least until they come to medical school.

— Dr. Saul Rosenberg

It is more important to know what sort of person has a disease than to know what sort of disease a person has.

— Hippocrates

I don’t do this stupid job because I want to be liked or accepted or whatever —

although that would be fucking nice —

I do this stupid job because I’m driven to do it —

unlike you, I do this stupid, stupid job because

because this is what I am

Empowered, issue 4

Inara: Mal, you don’t have to die alone.

Mal: Everybody dies alone.

Firefly, “Out of Gas” (e08)

Tracey: When you can’t run, you crawl. And when you can’t crawl, you… when you can’t do that…

Zoe: You find someone to carry you.

Firefly, “The Message” (e12)

For the first time Orville understood the force of isolation. Even in the face of cancer or coma. Understood, too, that the moments of healing had been when he, often inadvertently, had been present with people Bill had shown him that, that this is what good doctors do. We’re present at the crucial moments, and at the ordinary moments. We bring someone who is out on the edge of the so-called sick into the current of the human. We take what seems foreign in a person, and see it as native. This is healing. This is what good doctors do. Isolation is deadly. Connection heals. Even in dying.

The Spirit of the Place, Samuel Shem

“Kindness” covers all of my political beliefs. No need to spell them out. I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.

Roger Ebert

And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its shams, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.

— “Desiderata,” Max Ehrmann

Kindness is a language the deaf can hear, and the blind can see.

— Mark Twain

Once, when I mentioned this to second-year medical students, one raised his hand, “We learned empathy already.” What? “Yes, last year in interviewing. Empathy is when you repeat the last three words the patient says and nod your head.”

— Samuel Shem, Harvard 2009 commencement speech

I make my patients feel like they’re still part of life, part of some grand nutty scheme instead of alone with their diseases. With me, they still feel part of the human race.

The House of God, Samuel Shem

Suppose but one in ten restored, what man would think the designs of the society unimportant, were himself, his relation, or his friend — that one?

— Founders of the Royal Humane Society

lateat scintillula forsans

“a small spark may, perhaps, lie hidden”

— Motto of the Royal Humane Society

At times, in medicine, you feel you are inside a colossal and impossibly complex machine whose gears will turn for you only according to their own arbitrary rhythm. The notion that human caring, the effort to do better for people, might make a difference can seem hopelessly naive. But it isn’t.

Better, Atul Gawande

She felt the familiar calmness of an emergency, but she understood the falseness of that feeling, now that it was her life at stake.

Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese

It’s not your fault. No one asked you to suffer. That was your idea.

Bringing Out the Dead (film)

‎I usually try to imagine what a regular person would do, someone more in tune with the supplies and demands of human nature, and once I realize a regular person would never find himself in this position, I try to think like a hero in the movies.

— Bringing Out the Dead, Joe Connelly

Why do I want to be a doctor? Well… because doctors give people second chances. And we all deserve a second chance.

Scrubs, “Our Couples” (s09e07)

I love you and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it.

Scrubs, “My Words of Wisdom” (s06E16)

There’s no cure for dying.

House, “One Day, One Room” (s03e12)

Always give a word or sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, or even a stranger, if in a lonely place.

— Tecumseh

For me, I am driven by two main philosophies, know more today about the world than I knew yesterday. And lessen the suffering of others. You’d be surprised how far that gets you.

Neil deGrasse Tyson

. . . until the curtain was rung down on the last act of the drama (and it might have no last act!) he wished the intellectual cripples and the moral hunchbacks not to be jeered at; perhaps they might turn out to be the heroes of the play.

— George Santayana on William James [quoted in Linda Simon’s William James Remembered])

It seemed a marvel to her that any mortal should suffer for lack of love, and yet she had never known a mortal who didn’t feel unloved. There was enough love just in this ugly hallway, she thought, that no one should ever feel the lack of it again. She peered at the parents, imagining their hearts like machines, manufacturing surfeit upon surfeit of love for their children, and then wondered how something could be so awesome and so utterly powerless.

— Chris Adrian, “A Tiny Feast,” (The New Yorker, April 20, 2009)

The person, although severely injured, congratulates himself upon having made an excellent escape, and flatters himself that he is not only in no danger, but that he will soon be well; in fact, to look at him one would hardly suppose, at first sight, that there was anything serious the matter with him; the countenance appears well, the breathing is good, the pulse is but little affected, except that it is too soft and frequent, and the mind, calm and collected, possesses its wonted vigor, the patient asking and answering questions very much as in health. But a more careful examination soon serves to show that deep mischief is lurking in the system; that the machinery of life has been rudely unhinged, and the whole system profoundly shocked; in a word, that the nervous fluid has been exhausted, and that there is not enough power in the constitution to reproduce and maintain it.

— Samuel Gross, A System of Surgery

Disease often tells its secrets in a casual parenthesis.

— Wilfred Trotter, The Collected Papers of Wilfred Trotter

Oxygen may be necessary for life, but it doesn’t prevent death.

— Paul Marino, The ICU Book

Carbon structures life. Oxygen ignites it.

— Eric Roston, The Carbon Age

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