HOCUS-POCUS. Ever wondered about this term?
It is used by magicians when performing tricks — and tricks are just illusions.
Nobody is exactly sure where the term originated, but the best theory is that it is a parody of the Roman Canon of the Mass. Those of us with a classical slant will still remember “hic, haec, hoc” as we declined the relative pronoun in Latin.
Apparently the Protestants would mock the transubstantiation with some “hics”, “hocs” and the rest, and so evolved hocus-pocus.
In the faceless health bureaucracy there is some hocus-pocus at work.
In Coonabarabran, in north-west NSW, we had a quasi-iconic street sign (pictured), guiding both itinerants and locals to the hospital. The sign was stately, effective, and had been there as long as anyone could remember.
One day, we discovered the sign was gone.
Local doctors found out after it happened. This is now de rigueur for those faceless bureaucrats, who never have their names at the bottom of their “policy directives”.
Feeling like l had lost a good friend, I took up the cudgels and wrote a couple of letters to various people who do have names. Four months, and no replies.
Then one busy Friday morning, with six in the waiting room, my registrar away, and a mental health patient sitting in front of me, a VERY senior politician phoned me about my long-lost friend — the hospital sign.
The politician (who has a name, but will remain nameless) rang to warn me that a reply had been penned and that I would not like it.
“Is that so?” I retorted.
The apologia was along the lines of the health department wanting to reflect the changing face of service delivery, which is not all about hospitals anymore.
I asked the politician whether a tourist with a sick child, or a senior citizen, would better understand a sign saying “Health Service” or “Hospital” when looking for the emergency department in the middle of the night. I recall using the word “claptrap” somewhere in my rant.
Much to my surprise, the politician expressed gratitude after hearing me out, observing that my simple explanation had legs. Apparently the matter will go back for further review.
I may be able to give you an update by Christmas 2015.
It seems the hocus-pocus of the health department is like the Ministry of Magic — well meaning, but corrupted by “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named”.
But hocus-pocus is not all bad. I am using it to help paediatric patients and their parents.
Every time a child came in with molluscum contagiosum, I used to get blank looks from parents who thought I had uttered some magical incantation in Latin. Albus Dumbledore would have been proud of my cadence and pronunciation — but it was useless to the patients.
So I started calling it “Harry Potter disease”. A children’s disease needs a name to suit.
By the time the child could say molluscum contagiosum, the disease would normally have righted itself; without black magic.
And, of course, the lesions are … Hogwarts! What else?
Abracadabra and Merry Christmas!
Dr Aniello Iannuzzi is a GP practising in Coonabarabran, NSW. He joins MJA InSight next year as a regular commentator on a life in medicine.
Posted 12 December 2011