‘The Stethoscope Song’ is a poem written in 1848 by American physician, essayist, and poet Oliver Wendell Holmes.
There was a young man in Boston town,
He bought him a stethoscope nice and new,
All mounted and finished and polished down,
With an ivory cap and a stopper too.
It happened a spider within did crawl,
And spun him a web of ample size,
Wherein there chanced one day to fall
A couple of very imprudent flies.
The first was a bottle-fly, big and blue,
The second was smaller, and thin and long;
So there was a concert between the two,
Like an octave flute and a tavern gong.
Now being from Paris but recently,
This fine young man would show his skill;
And so they gave him, his hand to try,
A hospital patient extremely ill.
Some said that his liver was short of bile,
And some that his heart was over size,
While some kept arguing, all the while,
He was crammed with tubercles up to his eyes.
This fine young man then up stepped he,
And all the doctors made a pause;
Said he, The man must die, you see,
By the fifty-seventh of Louis’s laws.
But since the case is a desperate one,
To explore his chest it may be well;
For if he should die and it were not done,
You know the autopsy would not tell.
Then out his stethoscope he took,
And on it placed his curious ear;
Mon Dieu! said he, with a knowing look,
Why, here is a sound that’s mighty queer!
The bourdonnement is very clear,–
Amphoric buzzing, as I ‘m alive!
Five doctors took their turn to hear;
Amphoric buzzing, said all the five.
There’s empyema beyond a doubt
We’ll plunge a trocar in his side.
The diagnosis was made out,–
They tapped the patient; so he died.
Now such as hate new-fashioned toys
Began to look extremely glum;
They said that rattles were made for boys,
And vowed that his buzzing was all a hum.
There was an old lady had long been sick,
And what was the matter none did know:
Her pulse was slow, though her tongue was quick;
To her this knowing youth must go.
So there the nice old lady sat,
With phials and boxes all in a row;
She asked the young doctor what he was at,
To thump her and tumble her ruffles so.
Now, when the stethoscope came out,
The flies began to buzz and whiz:
Oh, ho! the matter is clear, no doubt;
An aneurism there plainly is.
The bruit de râpe and the bruit de scie
And the bruit de diable are all combined;
How happy Bouillaud would be,
If he a case like this could find!
Now, when the neighboring doctors found
A case so rare had been descried,
They every day her ribs did pound
In squads of twenty; so she died.
Then six young damsels, slight and frail,
Received this kind young doctor’s cares;
They all were getting slim and pale,
And short of breath on mounting stairs.
They all made rhymes with “sighs” and “skies,”
And loathed their puddings and buttered rolls,
And dieted, much to their friends’ surprise,
On pickles and pencils and chalk and coals.
So fast their little hearts did bound,
The frightened insects buzzed the more;
So over all their chests he found
The râle sifflant and the râle sonore.
He shook his head. There’s grave disease,–
I greatly fear you all must die;
A slight post-mortem, if you please,
Surviving friends would gratify.
The six young damsels wept aloud,
Which so prevailed on six young men
That each his honest love avowed,
Whereat they all got well again.
This poor young man was all aghast;
The price of stethoscopes came down;
And so he was reduced at last
To practise in a country town.
The doctors being very sore,
A stethoscope they did devise
That had a rammer to clear the bore
With a knob at the end to kill the flies.
Now use your ears, all you that can,
But don’t forget to mind your eyes,
Or you may be cheated, like this young man,
By a couple of silly, abnormal flies.
Chris is an Intensivist and ECMO specialist at the Alfred ICU in Melbourne. He is also a Clinical Adjunct Associate Professor at Monash University. He is a co-founder of the Australia and New Zealand Clinician Educator Network (ANZCEN) and is the Lead for the ANZCEN Clinician Educator Incubator programme. He is on the Board of Directors for the Intensive Care Foundation and is a First Part Examiner for the College of Intensive Care Medicine. He is an internationally recognised Clinician Educator with a passion for helping clinicians learn and for improving the clinical performance of individuals and collectives.
After finishing his medical degree at the University of Auckland, he continued post-graduate training in New Zealand as well as Australia’s Northern Territory, Perth and Melbourne. He has completed fellowship training in both intensive care medicine and emergency medicine, as well as post-graduate training in biochemistry, clinical toxicology, clinical epidemiology, and health professional education.
He is actively involved in in using translational simulation to improve patient care and the design of processes and systems at Alfred Health. He coordinates the Alfred ICU’s education and simulation programmes and runs the unit’s education website, INTENSIVE. He created the ‘Critically Ill Airway’ course and teaches on numerous courses around the world. He is one of the founders of the FOAM movement (Free Open-Access Medical education) and is co-creator of litfl.com, the RAGE podcast, the Resuscitology course, and the SMACC conference.
His one great achievement is being the father of three amazing children.
On Twitter, he is @precordialthump.