Thursday, March 25, 2010

Like Boiling Water

Medicine is like boiling water. It's simple really. Here's why...

How To Boil Water:
  1. Prepare the necessary items. You'll need a heat resistant pot, a stove, and some fresh cool water. The pot must be bigger than the amount of water you intend to boil! This is very important as spilled water is a safety hazard. Many people break their hips each year due to a reduction in friction secondary to the presence of water on the floor.
  2. Using a jug, carefully fill it up with cold fresh water.
  3. The quality of the water is important. You want your water to be as neutral as possible.
  4. However, be careful of using water that is too pure. Ultra pure water does not boil as water requires nucleation points in order to transform into a gas. (insert spiel on quantum mechanics here). This is dangerous as superheated water can explode when foreign particles are introduced to it. If you suspect that your water is very pure, you should only attempt to boil water wearing adequate safety gear to prevent scalding in the event that it explodes. Plastic research goggles are suitable for protecting your eyes.
  5. Pour the water from the jug into the pot. Make sure you leave at least 3cm of space between the top of the pot and the level of the water. This is because water becomes turbulent when it is boiled and can splash out.
  6. Turn on the stove. Make sure that there is actually fire coming out of the stove. Do not touch the fire. It will hurt.
  7. Never leave the water unattended. Keep your eye on the pot and you will notice steam starting to rise from the surface of the water eventually. Then, small bubbles will form, and then big bubbles.
  8. When small bubbles are forming, it's called a simmer and is a mild form of boiling water. To boil water vigorously, increase the heat and you will see big bubbles forming. The water will also become very turbulent and alot of steam would be released at the same time.
  9. Congratulations. You are now boiling water.
  10. Be careful. Boiling water is hot and can burn you. Practical tip: Using a lid will make the water boil faster by keeping in the heat transferred from the stove.
If you were a five year old kid who has never boiled water before, the instructions above sound difficult and complicated. As you grow up you learn more things and see your folks boil water all the time. When you are old enough, your mum lets you boil water. It comes naturally because of all the life skills you build up from experience, plus the fact you've seen mum do it a million times. Medicine is something like that - that's why 3rd, 4th and 5th year in the monash program is done almost entirely in hospitals. It's for experience.

Medical textbooks are like the instructions above. A layperson looking at a medical textbook gets the impression that it's some super difficult course. It's not. At the end of the day, patients come in complaining with X or Y, and most of the time, what's wrong with the patient is obvious after just a few questions. Treatments are prescribed based on common sense and guidelines so there really isnt anything to it. Doctors also know they have to ask some questions (and occasionally do some tests) to exclude certain serious complications or diseases the person might also have. I would ask the guy who plans to boil water if he is planning to use a microwave because it is far easier to superheat water in a microwave compared to any other heating method. I would ask the mother of a vomiting baby a few standard questions to rule out life threatening gut blockages.

Piece of cake.


  1. I superheated filtered water in a microwave-safe mug yesterday. The water looked calm. But the moment I poured a spoonful of instant coffee into the mug, foam formed, rose and climbed out of the mug. Only half the water was left in the mug when the rising foam stopped.

  2. Hahaha.. maybe it is the "evil" instant coffee that caused the explosion.

    Serving instant coffee to Ezra will probably cause a similar phenomena :D

  3. hey good! I am first year med student!your posts are very inspiring!looking up for more.cheers from uk!