Saturday, February 18, 2012

Trivia answer

Earlier this week I used the term "Hufnagel's Syndrome" in a post.

It wasn't meant to get any sort of attention, I just needed to come up with a disease name.

To my surprise, my stats have since shown a surprising number of people googling "Hufnagel's Syndrome" trying to find out what it was, then being directed back to the post. I've also received about 20 emails asking about it.

So here is the answer: There is no such disease.

The name idea is from a TV show I grew up watching, St. Elsewhere, set in a teaching hospital.

Florence Hufnagel (played by the mostly forgotten, but truly awesome, Florence Halop) was a recurring character. She was the classic patient-from-hell that we all encounter during our training (I didn't realize how accurate her portrayal was until I did my residency 10 years later). She was comically abusive and sarcastic, and made you realize how hard it could be to try and take care of someone you couldn't stand.

Her character made such an impression on a generation of TV watchers (and future doctors) that as recently as 2010 she was being cited in the news as an example.

In one of the most memorable scenes in TV history, Mrs. Hufnagel died from a bizarre combination of cardiac surgery complications and (more importantly) a malfunctioning adjustable hospital bed. It folded up into a V shape, bending her in half and suffocating her. Her death scene showed only one arm, sticking straight out the side of the folded bed.

In a bizarre postscript, it later turned out that she'd left her entire estate to one of the residents (Elliot Axelrod). When he met her lawyer it was (roughly) $50,000, but with taxes, funeral costs, and "an ongoing legal action with American Samoa" it left him with something like $18.73.

So, if you really want to think there's a disorder called "Hufnagel's Syndrome," I suppose it would be being killed by an electric adjustable bed.

16 comments:

terri c said...

I *loved* St Elsewhere!!! Can't remember many of the names now but do remember the episode where just about every character called Ehrlich a pig... It was a good show, funny and occasionally heartbreaking.

Dave Trowbridge said...

What I found when looking for it was the apparently controversial doctor Vicki Hufnagel and a lot of information about "female reconstructive surgery" as an alternative to hysterectomies.

I like your original better.

Mr Mobius said...

Also explains why the doctors decided to use the name 'St Elsewhere' for the location of the Kardex, patient notes etc on the OSCE stations in my Finals exam this week.

Anonymous said...

Ah, death by the electric gomer bed. Bummer!

xedra said...

For me Hufnagel is a name from a cartoon I watched when I was a kid. It was a Hungarian family cartoon and there was a lady who was always unhappy with her husband. Her favorite saying was "Why, o, why didn't I marry Pishta Hufnagel, when I had the chance".

thethingspatientssay said...

Alternatively, it could be "being trapped in a snow globe by an autistic child."

Anonymous said...

My parents and grandparents used to make me watch this show in India in the hope that it would inspire me to be a doctor but it didnt work lol
B

Ole Phat Stu said...

Hufnagel is German/Yiddish for a nail in a horse's or donkey's hoof. Thus the derived meaning of 'a pain in the ass'? ;)

AM said...

I laughed as soon as I read the name of the disease. I knew that is what it was. I loved St. Elsewhere.

Tex said...

I loved St. Elsewhere.
But who remembers the ORIGINAL concept of St. Elsewhere?











That's right....."House of God"

Kapitano said...

For every syndrome, there is an equal and opposite re-syndrome. In this case, for every jerk patient, there's a jerk doctor or nurse.

I once went to a doctor about a rash. She was supremely uninterested 'til she noticed in my notes that another doctor had written that I was gay.

She then treated me to a ten minute lecture on safe sex, with the implication that STDs were divine justice.

A month later, there was a different name on her door.

Anonymous said...

Loved St. Elsewhere! I remember the episode where Mrs Hufnagel got trapped in the bed -- laughed and laughed. I still use "St Elsewhere" as a location when I ask patients where they had their previous scns done, and all they can tell me -- "that office downtown, somewhere near Yonge St."

Justin Unbounded said...

Confession: I tried to google it myself.

Anonymous said...

"Hufnagel on a half-shell"

Unknown said...

couldn't we just use it as a charting shorthand for "abusive and rude patient"? there's a great list of British chart shorthands, most rude, somewhere out on the internets. my favorite was "handbag positive" for an elderly demented woman clutching her handbag in the hospital.

Anonymous said...

I mention that scene to patients when I push the wrong bed buttons!! I'm glad I'm not the only one that remembers it! :)

 
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