It's hard to believe it's been more than 35 years since the television show Star Trek redefined most everybody's vision on what the future might look like. Since its debut in 1966, Star Trek has been watched by so many people, and so frequently, that many of the show's expressions, such as "Beam me up!" have managed to creep into everyday usage. Here's more on that, from someone who has been absent from out pages for far too long.
'Tales of Adventure and Medical Life #15' by Sharon 
  Farber; title illo by Kip Williams
The majority of doctors of my generation define the future as "Star Trek," and references to that show creep into ordinary life on the wards. For instance, beepers now are high tech devices carrying full messages and capable of receiving news and sports. (I had to carry a colleague's beeper one weekend, and the damn thing drove me nuts. Without the instruction manual, I couldn't figure out how to make it stop giving me urgent football scores.) They can make audible beeps or buzz silently -- a state called 'stun'. It is not uncommon for a lecture or meeting to begin with a plea to "Set your pagers on stun."

In the old days of more primitive pagers, we received short verbal messages. This frequently led to jokes. There was the famous tale of the emergency room doctor unable to get rid of a malingering patient. Finally he held out his beeper saying, "This is a medical scanner, it will show what's wrong with you." His colleague down the hall promptly called him, so as he ran the pager up and down over the patient a flat voice recited "Sodium 145. Potassium 3.5. Lungs clear. Heart regular. Nothing is wrong. Patient is faking. Patient is faking." Legend has it that the guy promptly left.

I perpetrated a joke on my pal Dave in fourth year of medical school. Early one workday I dialed his number and a South African neurosurgeon resident, with whom Dave was not familiar, shouted "Scotty! Emergency! Beam me up!" He had actually never seen Star Trek, and was baffled by the prank. I was unaware that Dave was, at that moment, in a conference with the chairman of the Department of Medicine. It was years before I confessed.

Dave was a science fiction fan too, and a pal who later came back to study neurology at the same program as me. I immortalized his equally cavalier approach to the beeper with the following cartoon:

illo by Sharon Farber

One day a neurosurgery resident sat down with me at lunch and announced, " I just saw the episode of Star Trek where Dr. McCoy reattaches Spock's brain." After a year of covering City Hospital and the V.A. every night, he was on his pathology rotation and had time to watch late night reruns.

"Gee," I asked evilly. "Put the brain back in. That's impressive. Could you do that?"

He shook his head sadly. "No. But I could remove it."

Hence this cartoon:

illo by Sharon Farber

I was the unofficial department cartoonist, scribbling on 3x5 cards during rounds in order to keep from tearing my nails to pieces. Most of the cartoons were lost; once an intern was witnessed stealing a dozen from the bulletin board. I found that people liked to be portrayed as superheroes or Star Trek characters. After a lengthy discussion on rounds of all that was wrong in the scene in Star Trek IV where Chekov is treated for an epidural hematoma, I drew this cartoon:

illo by Sharon Farber (177K size)

In my final year I spent three months learning to read electroencephalograms, with their inscrutable complexities, such as:

illo by Sharon Farber

Our department, having to some extent pioneered EEG, was resting on its laurels -- still using eight channel machines when the rest of the world had gone to 16 or 18 or more. Moreover, we used a display montage called the O'Leary B, after the department chair who had invented it. I was proud when I learned that the montage had been devised at our institution -- until later, when I realized that we were the only people in the world still using the antiquated thing. It was a bit like clinging to your eight-track cassette and Underwood portable (I should talk -- I still use a Mac). I once asked an attending why we used this difficult and unintuitive method of displaying data. He said, "if you can learn to read the O'Leary B, you can read anything."

I was studying with a young attending fresh from the frozen north who was attempting to bring up-to-date technology and montages to the department. The older faculty grumbled, and the younger faculty snuck furtively over to whisper their plans. You would have thought they were plotting the death of Rasputin rather than linear electrode arrays. It led to the following cartoon:

illo by Sharon Farber

After thanking me, the encephalographer said, "And you're right. The machines can't take it."

Title illustration by Kip Williams
All other illustrations by Sharon Farber.

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