I have tried to make my own little mark in this world. My career as a Medical Educator and Clinician in Gastroenterology (see www.gastroindia.net) and my flirtations with Health Promotion, especially amongst school children (see www.hope.org.in) are shown elsewhere.This blog contains my attempts at creative writing, most being write-ups for Health Adda column of HT City of Hindustan Times (also see www.healthaddaindia.blogspot.com) as well as a few others, and some reflections and thoughts that have struck me from time to time on my life journey.Please leave your footprint on this blog with your comment.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Funny Ways to Remember Serious Stuff

Ever wondered how a medico transfers information on 226 human bones, 605 muscles, 800 diseases and 1200 medications, contained in 40 kg of medical books, to his brain and stores it as memory?  It is through a very useful memory-aid technique called Mnemonics.
A mnemonic is a catchy verbal phrase, word, poem or song that helps a person remember something. Take for instance the tongue-twisting names of the 8 wrist bones: Pisiform, Triquetral, Lunate, Scaphoid, Trapezium, Trapezoid, Capitate and Hamate. How on earth would a young fresher remember them and in that order had it not been for the mnemonic “Please Take Lovely S’onia’.To The Coffee House”.  What adds to the fun in the anatomy class is the freedom to improvise and use the name of one’s favourite “S”from the class girls, thereby etching the names of the carpal bones to one’s memory for life.
Home-made Indian versions are often more exciting. Medicos across the Hindi speaking belt prefer “Sneh Lata Tinde Paka, Tinde Tho Kachhe Hain” to remember the same 8 names, albeit in an opposite sequence,
The word ‘mnemonic’ is derived from the ancient Greek Goddess of memory “Mnemosyme”. Experts describe 2 types of memory, the “natural” one that we use every day, and an “artificial” one that is trained through learning and practicing a variety of mnemonic techniques, the type that doctors use.
What makes mnemonics so amusing and memorable are their regional flavours and arbitrariness. Americans remember the names and sequence of the 12 cranial nerves that originate in the brain (Olfactory,Optic, Oculomotor, Trochlear,  Trigeminal,  Abducens, Facial, Vestibular/Auditory, Glossopharyngeal, Vagus, Spinal-Accessory and Hypoglossal) with “ Oh! Oh! Oh!, To Take a Family Vacation, Go Vegas After Hours”, while Europeans prefer “ On Old Olympus’s Towering Tops a Finn And a German Viewed Some Hops”.
Mnemonics seem more popular in medicine than in any other branch of learning, accounting for more than half of the million results that a google search throws up for the word, and help us remember details that have no logic. How does one remember the day of fever on which a skin rash appears in an exanthematous illness, but for the mnemonic “Very Sick People Must Drink Tea Twice” indicating Varicella (chicken pox) on day 1, Scarlet Fever day 2, pox (small pox) day 3, Measles, day 4, Diphtheria, day 5, Typhoid, day 6 and Typhus, day 7.
Perhaps a better known form of mnemonic is an acronym, a sequence of letters to remember as a word or a catchy sequence. The ABC of resuscitation in an emergency, for instance, stands for securing a free Airway, ensuring Breathing, and an adequate Circulation, while DUMBELS (diarrhea, urination, meiosis, bradycardia, excitaion of muscles, lacrymation, and salivation) denote the symptoms of poisoning.with an organophosporous pesticide.
Tailpiece: Heard of the anatomy teacher who coined the mnemonic “Possible To Remember The Names Of All My Kids” to remember the names of his 9 children?. .
As published in HT City ( Hindustan Times) dated 15 May, 2011.

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