Medical Symbolism

caduceus

 

Clearly, as a society, our educational system has failed us, especially in respect of the liberal arts.

Sure, some of you are thinking: Who cares?

We need nurses, engineers, and IT professionals; not poets, philosophers, and artists.

Herein lies the core of our problem – we‘re lacking fundamental knowledge regarding history, especially vis-à-vis medical history symbology.

Now many of you are wondering once again, what the hell, who cares?

Well, let me tell you in no uncertain terms: most of you, physicians especially, are ignorant concerning the medical symbology deployed and displayed on your uniforms and scrubs.

Yep, some of you wear them to work, tattoo them on your body, and put them on your business cards. But you do so incorrectly.

If you have the caduceus tattooed on your body, you might want to consider covering it up with the Rod of Asclepius.

As examples, I’ll use two of the most misused symbols in our profession: the Red Cross and the caduceus.

The Red Cross

The Red Cross with a white background, as you know, now emblazons the front of clinics, emergency rooms, and the sides of ambulances.

These days, it is widely known or associated with first aid.

However, this has not always been the case.  In fact, according to the Geneva Convention, it wasn’t intended to represent first aid at all.

In 1864, article 7 of the Geneva Convention declared the Red Cross with a white background as the uniform symbol of protection in conflict.

“The Red Cross represents non-combatants, allowing two or more combatant armies on the battlefield to distinguish who can or can’t be shot at.”

Yep, the only people or buildings who/which should bear the Red Cross are as follows: military medical buildings housing the sick and injured, military chaplains, military medical equipment and personal, and the International Red Cross and its affiliates.

Essentially, the Red Cross represents non-combatants, allowing two or more combatant armies on the battlefield to distinguish who can or can’t be shot at.

Unfortunately for civilian nurses, we’re open season, as the Red Cross won’t protect us from either bullets or, as you’re all too aware, buttholes.

The Caduceus

The caduceus, if you remember from your High School history or Western Civilization class, is the staff used by Hermes in Greek mythology and by Mercury in Roman mythology.

In both Greek and Roman mythology, the staff represents commerce and/or negotiation, not medicine.

The two snakes twisting up a single rod with wings which mirror each other, represents the reciprocity of trade.

Yep, that’s right; it represents a transaction: I give you money, you give me product.

“The Caduceus represents a transaction: I give you money, you give me product.”

In the United States, for whatever reason, we’ve confused the caduceus with the Rod of Asclepius, a rod with one snake twisting around it.  Unlike Hermes or Mercury, Asclepius was the Greek god of healing and medicine.

As educated professionals, language, grammar, and symbology matter.  Yes, we can keep on living a lie.

We can pretend that the caduceus represents medicine or that the Red Cross represents first aid, but I’d prefer we just understand history and symbology.

Obviously, as a culture, this is embarrassing.

After all, this mistake is generally confined to North America; unlike the rest of the world, they didn’t fall asleep during history or Western Civ.

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