week 1 writing


KtAss Learning the Language 49

Learning the Language

Perri Klass As a medical student, perri Klass had to learn a new code, a new lan_guate, a new set of attitudes and behaviors. Although most of uswill never learn that particular Iantuate, her initiation into the lan_guage of the medical commun ity paral lels what happens when anyone of us enters a new group. Whether that new group is a family ora f r ater nity/sorority, a discipl ine or profession, or a new workplaceculture, perri Klass calls to our attention both the rewards and dangersof "learni ng the language.', To use a medical euphemthe process is "a not entirely benign procedure.,'

ism, she might say

With her own diverse background asa pediatrician, writer, andmotherl perri Klass ís sensitive to the ways in which we come into lan-guage. She was born in Trinidad in 195g, where her father (an anthro-pologíst) and her mother (a writer) lived at the tíme. She receíved herMD from Harvard Medical School in 19g6 and has ize in pediatric medicine. Even with

tone on to special_ and practice, not to mention fam

the deman ds of medical training Recombinations

ily, she has published three novels,(1985), Other Women 's Children (1990), and TheMystery of Breothing (2004), as well as two short-story collections,I Am Having an Adventure (1986) and Love ond Modern Medicine:(- rå)

Stories (2OO1). She has also written two collections of essays about ci

medical training, Baby Doctor: A Pediatricion\ Troining (1992) and A /,,

I tì Not Entirely Benign procedure: Four Years as a Medical Student (1987),

P/ in which the following selection appears as a chapter. Her latest book,

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,,)o lntern

written with Eileen Costello, is euirky Kids (2004). Perri Klass! ¡nterestin "learning the language" continues, as she now serves as the medicaldirector of the national literacy cated to promoting literacy

program Reach Out and Read, dedi_ as part of pediatric primary care.

Tolstoy is basic LOL in NAD, admitted for a soft new hits as Possible

contributes to a sense of closeness i that

rule-out MI," the This special language

r.l '.:' .Ò I

v 48 Dol

on my patient list. In other words, Mrs. Tolstoy among people who are under a gqeat of she a medical student,


And yet at other tines the harshness cli ",Ç rplE¡r'r.s,rr, "A; v;'' kn o', th i, l," ; ;; ;i i:, Jï ö ï::'::'ff i,,:',.:'J:doctor u'ill sa)',

"n,r th"t wit be ,.J".r,àJ'a i'rpry agorì¡ .rsk or compri_cations, and maybe evell a significant niortality rate. The more extre¡ne form5 ¿5idç, one lnost i.rpo.tart functio' of mecJicar jar_gon is to help doctors'r.aintair r"r"; ñì;;'åe from their patients. .By refor_'ulati'g a patiénr's pain ã'd ot"rri;r-'ïiì-'ìo , rrngu"gá that trre patie't

Ktlss Learning the Languagt 5l

ii,,;lï,r**Ëä':i'ltffi *;f i[,t"iif f¡i}ffi ;l;îïi" tions to g" -l' -" 1,,"¿

"tout adeno-CA." the inteà can say,to the med-

ilî ï:lyJiff il':,i' Ï"Ïi, äiï ::l :: :* l*::, *,,., r 1 ,'. I learrrecl a new language this past

summer' At times it thrills me to hear ( ,"r's.n,;;;;t' t'"'1nf,tt' i]" to t'nd"'siancl rny colleagues'

to commrrnicate

efiectively i' the hospìa"f.'V"i f am uncomfort"bly "*"t. that I will never

aeain notice the peculiarities ancl even atrocities of meclical language as l' : ;::

ffiilit;làicl this "t--"'' There may be specific-expressions I manage to

avoicl, but even as t ,.-"rk them, p.oÁising myself l-will 'ever use them, I

find that this langr-rage is becoming Ty professional speech' It no longer

souncls strange lt-' -y ""'-or to-iãg fio--my mouth' And I am afraid thai

as witl-i âny new t,nguþ, t" tt" it i'op"'ly you must'abt"^1bl",t ::itjf îå.riì,lr' but also îhe"str,rct.re, tlie logic, the attitudes. At tirst you may notice these l-rew and alien assumptions every time you

put together a sen-

tence, but with time "'''d i''t"'""'"á flut'l"y yáu stop being aware of them at

all. Ancl as you lor. tl-t"i"'"'reness' fo' beitá' o' foi wo's"' you move closer

and closer to being , ¿o.to, insteaá of iust talki'rg like one' : , ,,'i ' ' ' :

!', ';;t,1,,,.;, i

Working with the Text l.Whydodoctorsusemedicaljargon?PerriKlassoffersseveralreasonsinher

essay. First list those reasons' and then write a short response essay in which

you tease out how those reasons might be related. From your perspective as a

patient, are there r"u'on' that Klass rnight htu" neglected to mention?

2.Klassreflectsonboththebenefitsandthedrawbacksofspecializedmedical language.Developut*o..otu.nIistofthosebenefitsanddrawbacks.Whose |nterests and perspectives does that tist represent? Are there

other benefits

and drawbacks you would add to that list? Working from your lists' write a

short response essay on whether the language of any community is inevitabty

partial and inevitaúty speaks to certa¡n,lnterests. Does speciatized language

itpty u user! particutar view of the wortd?

3. Two figures make cameo aPpearances in the essay: the mother and a fettow

medical student whom Klass names "Mr' Eponymi' What functions do these

two characters serve? How do the mother and Mr' Eponym retate to the

imptied reader of the essay? ln what ways are Sroups defined as much by out-

siders as Uy n]"rni""f Wit" u short analysis of the essay in which you tease

out connections between the structure áf fta's! essay and the dynamics of

entering a communitY'

. CxaprtR I loining the Conve¡sation