This site is intended for health professionals only

At the heart of general practice since 1960

Read the latest issue online

CAMHS won't see you now

Hands off my stethoscope

Copperfield is alarmed to learn the health and safety police are conspiring to take his badge of office away

Copperfield is alarmed to learn the health and safety police are conspiring to take his badge of office away

Consider the stethoscope. I'll bet you can remember the day you bought your first.

I still have mine, a well-worn Littman with grey tubing that was my constant companion through med school and house jobs.

I was wearing mine when I learned one of medicine's most important lessons. Before the weekly ward round when the professor of cardiology's back was turned, we managed to stuff the earpieces of his stethoscope with cotton wool.

He led the troupe up and down the ward as per usual, rested the bell and diaphragm on the chest of every patient in the place, got some of them to breathe in, breathe out and say '99' and then left the ward as though nothing untoward had happened, probably to buy some Waxsol from Boots.

A stethoscope is not a device for listening to patients' hearts and lungs, it's a device used to shut the bastards up. It says: 'Me Doctor, you Numbskull.' If you have a stethoscope - a proper one, not one of those weightless diaphragm-only pieces of crap that nurses get out of Christmas crackers - then you've got credibility.

You might say I've overreacted as I've now acquired four. A teeny-weeny one for the teeny-weeny baby clinic, a paediatric one for no particular reason, a standard adult version to use when I want to make standard adults think that I've really listened to their chest before telling them they don't need an antibiotic for their flu, and my favourite - a really big, heavy Cardiology Special.

This weighs in at about half a pound at the business end. I have no particular interest in heart sounds but I keep it handy in case any trouble kicks off on a home visit. More competent mathematicians than me can calculate the force of impact of a double-sized bell swinging at the end of a two-foot length of sturdy plastic tubing. But rest assured, when it hits between the eyes it's enough to persuade a mean-looking, crossbred yard dog not to have a second go.

So I wasn't bothered when researchers with nothing better to do concluded that it was possible to get better recordings of patients' heart and breath sounds using the voice record feature on a mobile phone or MP3 player. They're missing the point. If I want to know what someone's heart really sounds like I have a bunch of request forms labelled 'echocardiogram'.

Stethoscopes are cool - badges of office that let the proles and chavs know that you know more than they do.

And now another bunch of health and safety nutters have stuck their oar in, complaining that our beloved tubes are teeming with billions of pathogenic bacteria. Not only have they confiscated our long-sleeved white coats, our college ties and our Rolexes, now they want our Littmans too.

Enough is enough. They'll get my trusty stethoscope when they prise my cold dead hand off it - and not a moment sooner.


Rate this article 

Click to rate

  • 1 star out of 5
  • 2 stars out of 5
  • 3 stars out of 5
  • 4 stars out of 5
  • 5 stars out of 5

0 out of 5 stars

Have your say