cover of book

The Staff and the Serpent: Pertinent and Impertinent Observatioins on the World of Medicine
by Allen B Weisse
Southern Illinois University Press, 1998
eISBN: 978-0-8093-8064-0 | Cloth: 978-0-8093-2149-0
Library of Congress Classification R723.W39 1998
Dewey Decimal Classification 610


If laughter is good medicine, then the twenty-two essays offered here by Dr. Allen B. Weisse should prove a hearty antidote to a host of ills suffered by doctors, students and would-be students of medicine, amateur and professional medical historians, and, of course, patients, those of us who wonder what the medical profession is all about and how it affects us.

Often humorous and always informative, these essays cover a broad range of medical subjects. Weisse tackles medical ethics, offers advice to medical and premedical students and their families, delves into unusual episodes in medical history, confronts considerations of aging and self-image, and discusses the vagaries of rewards and recognition available from medical research. He also examines honesty in medical thinking, investigates ways of dealing with bureaucracies, and considers ways of learning to live with oneself. Finally, he evaluates the changing nature of medicine and medical research and looks into the roles of minorities and women in medicine.

Weisse knows whereof he speaks, enlivening each essay with personal anecdotes. When he explains past and current medical school admissions policies, for example, he approaches the subject with the combined knowledge of a former premedical student, a medical student, a faculty member, and an admissions chairperson over the past thirty years. As a medical researcher whose chief turned against him, he certainly knows what he is talking about in "Betrayal." He also writes with authority in his humorous account of how he, as a senior physician, struggles to keep on top of the overwhelming onslaught of medical advances ("Confessions of Creeping Obsolescence"). And in an essay to boost all of our spirits, he tells how an ivory tower physician (Weisse himself) gets drawn up in the service of the IRS bureaucracy and winds up tweaking its nose a bit ("In the Service of the IRS").

Perhaps nothing better illustrates the vigor, wit, and élan that characterize Weisse’s essays than his titles. "On Chinese Restaurants" deals with unusual syndromes and the way in which they have evolved and affected the way we look at ourselves. Other titles are "Pneumocystis and Me," "The Vanishing Male," "Say It Isn’t ‘No," "Bats in the Belfry or Bugs in the Belly?: Helicobacter and the Resurrection of Johannes Fibiger," and "PC: Politically Correct or Potentially Corrupting?"

Finally, two words in this book’s subtitle succinctly characterize Weisse’s essays: pertinent and impertinent—germane and irreverent information rakishly presented.

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