Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Little Red Bumps

 “They’re little bumps all over… Sort of red.”

“Could you be more specific?”

“Little red bumps over my body… spots. Some are raised. They sort of itch…”

Americans, even with a college degree, are painfully inarticulate. Can you describe the face of someone familiar? Novelists do it all the time, but I bet you’d have trouble. Words like nodule, pustule, blister, wheal, plaque, ulcer, scale, and fissure are not obscure medical terms. Educated people know what they mean but can’t seem to use them.

If a caller said “I have dozens of one to three millimeter pustules surrounded by a red base, mostly on my back and chest, not so many on my arms and legs,” my diagnosis is “chicken pox.” But “red bumps” is the best many can do.

I’m happy to make diagnoses over the phone, and guests are eager not to pay for a visit. I have little trouble with respiratory infections and upset stomachs, but skin problems frustrate me.

“I worry about bedbugs. Do you think it’s bedbugs?”

“What do they look like?”

“Little red bumps….. Do you think it might be an allergy?”

“Could you be more specific?”

“Bumps…They’re raised, some of them, and they're red….”

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