Take Two and Call Me in the Morning

By Howard J. Bennett, MD

Doctors love quotes. We use them on rounds. We use them with colleagues. We even use them with patients. Of course, most of the quotes used in medicine involve “quoting the literature,” that time-honored tradition where we cite the latest findings from medical journals. There is another kind of quote, however—the medical one-liner. These quotes are witty sayings that capture, in an instant, some aspect of medicine or patient care. Classic medical quotes include lines like, “If you don’t take a temperature, you won’t find a fever,” and “The first thing to do at a code is to check your own pulse.”

All of the following quotes can be used with colleagues and many of them can also be shared with patients. Medical quotes are useful with patients for two reasons. First, they help break the ice. Humor has the potential to aid the doctor-patient relationship by putting both parties at ease in a way that traditional forms of communication do not.

There are only two things a child will share willingly—communicable diseases and his mother’s age. — Benjamin Spock, MD

Never ask a surgeon if he thinks you need an operation.— Anonymous

The law of heredity is that all undesirable traits come from the other parent.


A drug is a substance that when given to a patient produces the side effect you forgot to mention. — Howard J. Bennett, MD

Switching health insurance is like switching rooms on the Titanic.

— Anonymous

A well person is a patient who has not been completely worked up.

J. Freymann, MD

Nothing is impossible until it is sent to a committee. — J.H. Boren

My husband and I found this great new method of birth control that really, really works. Every night before we go to bed, we spend an hour with our kids. — Roseanne Barr

You can’t make an asymptomatic patient better. — Anonymous

The Krebs Cycle is a series of complicated biochemical reactions that show how everything we eat turns to fat. — Howard J. Bennett, MD

If you don’t know how to treat something, change the diagnosis.

—W.B. Shelley, MD

Cholesterol is a substance in the blood that causes you to eat salads.

Richard Carleton, MD

You can’t teach an old dogma new tricks. — Dorothy Parker

Bennett’s Axiom on lab tests:

• If you get a lab test to reassure a patient, the results will always be abnormal.

• Corollary No. 1: Unexpected lab results will not correct themselves no matter how many times you look at the chart.

I asked my doctor how I could get my 4-year-old to eat better. He said, “If you want small creatures in your house to eat enthusiastically, buy a dog.” — Jan Henkelman

Never trust a naked baby. — Anonymous

The Laws of Behavior Management only apply to other people’s children.

— Lawrence Calhoun, PhD

Be nice to your children. After all, they’re going to choose your nursing home. — Steven Wright

I used to worry about losing my husband to another woman. Now, I’m more afraid of losing my nanny to another woman. — Sybil Adelman

Sitting through Grand Rounds is like eating a plate of vegetables—you know it’s good for you, but you’d rather have fries. — Howard J. Bennett, MD

The only way to keep a child from ingesting a drug is to prescribe it for him. — David Guttman, MD

The Law of Discharge: Any labs done on the day of discharge will be abnormal. — Anonymous

For my birthday I got a humidifier and a dehumidifier. I put them in the same room and let them fight it out. — Steven Wright

Ratner’s Law: Beeper work better if you turn them on.

McDonald’s “breakfast for under a dollar” actually costs much more than that. You have to factor in the cost of the coronary bypass surgery.

— George Carlin

Advice to first year medical students: In anatomy, it is better to have learned and lost than never to have learned at all.

— Somerset Maugham

The Laws of Behavior Management only apply to other people’s children.

— Lawrence Calhoun, PhD

It has recently been discovered that research causes cancer in rats.

— Anonymous

When I die, I’m going to leave my body to science fiction.

— Rodney Dangerfield

If you don’t take a temperature, you won’t find a fever. — Anonymous

There is no subject, however complex, which if studied with patience and diligence, will not become more complex. Robert Matz, MD

There is no such thing as bowel function at the VA. — Anonymous

For three days after death, hair and fingernails continue to grow, but phone calls taper off. — Johnny Carson

You never realize how long a minute is until you’ve had a colonoscopy.

Howard J. Bennett, MD

Before going on a diet you should consult your doctor, or at least send him some money. — Dave Barry

Divorce dates from just about the same time as marriage. I think marriage is a few weeks older. — Voltaire

I’m pushing 60—that’s enough exercise for me. — Mark Twain

Confidence is the feeling you have before you understand the situation.

— Anonymous

The second day of diet is always easier than the first. By the second day, you’re off of it. — Jackie Gleason

A Freudian slip is when you say one thing but mean your mother.

— Anonymous

On longevity: If I’d known I was gonna live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself. — Eubie Blake, at 100

Scientists have found a way to keep middle-aged female mice from going through menopause. Now they’re working on a way to keep middle-aged male mice from buying expensive sports cars. — Conan O’Brien

I scope, therefore I am. — Anonymous

Today’s pearl is tomorrow’s fecalith. — Daniel J. Waters, DO

When doctors describe pain as experiencing “discomfort,” it’s like saying Hiroshima experienced “urban renewal.” — Dave Barry

A medical examiner is a coroner with a bigger office. — Ryan James, MD

Science magazine came out with a report on the difference between men’s and women’s brains. Apparently women are more controlled by a part of the brain called the cingulate gyrus and men are more controlled by a part of the brain known as the penis. — Jay Leno

After my first pregnancy, all of my fat went to my thighs. My husband’s fat went to his head. — Molly Ryan, MD

There are two kinds of statistics, the kind you look up and the kind you make up.

— Rex Stout

The human body is like a condominium. The thing that keeps you from really enjoying it is the maintenance. — Jerry Seinfeld

Show me a sane man and I will cure him for you. — Carl Jung

© 2012 Howard J. Bennett. All Rights Reserved.

(First published in Stitches, The Journal of Medical Humor March 2004.)

For more articles and other information,
please visit Dr. B’s website at http://www.howardjbennett.com