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A Most Unusual Patient at the Massachusetts General Hospital

Ruhnke, Gregory W. MD, MS, MPH*; Warshaw, Andrew L. MD

doi: 10.1097/SLA.0b013e31823a9a36
Special Article

This year marks 200 years of patient care at the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). In celebration of this milestone, a unique Grand Rounds case is presented. A 450-year-old rotund man admitted 60 times presents with a classic triad of periumbilical pain, bilateral plantar burns, and a frozen scalp. Although this triad may at first strike a cord of familiarity among seasoned clinicians, the disease mechanism is truly noteworthy, being clarified only after a detailed occupational history. Ergo, the lessons hark back to the days of yesteryear, when the history and physical served as the cornerstone of Yuletide clinical diagnosis. A discussion of epidemiology and prognosis accompanies a detailed examination of the pathophysiholiday. Although some consider this patient uncouth, as you will see, he is quite a medical sleuth. The long-standing relationship between this patient and the MGH prompted his family to write a letter of appreciation, which will remind the reader of the meaning that our care brings to patients and their families. Harvey Cushing, who completed his internship at the MGH in 1895, professed “A physician is obligated to consider more than a diseased organ, more even than the whole man—he must view the man in his world.” We hope this unusual Grand Rounds case intrigues you as it reminds you of Cushing's lesson and wishes you a joyous holiday season.

As the Massachusetts General Hospital celebrates 200 years of patient care, a Grand Rounds case is presented. This 450-year-old man presents with a classic triad of periumbilical pain, bilateral plantar burns, and a frozen scalp. The unusual disease mechanism, as well as its epidemiology and prognosis, are discussed.

*Department of Medicine, University of Chicago, IL

Department of Surgery, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA.

Reprints: Gregory W. Ruhnke, MD, MS, MPH, University of Chicago Medical Center, 5841 South Maryland Avenue, MC 5000, Chicago, IL 60637. E-mail:

Disclosure: Supported by Gregory Ruhnke's development funds at the University of Chicago for travel to Boston for data collection. No funding was received from any other organization.

© 2011 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.