Folk of a medical persuasion will probably see where I am going with this, but I promise it is an entirely true story, the proof of which is that it took months and months for it to occur to me that I could use it on this blog. What can I say? I am slow.
Healthy people are probably wondering why I am blathering about hoofed african mammals instead of my usual cheery chat about tumours, but fret not. All shall be revealed.
A zebra is, as Wikipedia (and, I believe, Scrubs) so nobly tells us, the medical term for a surprising diagnosis, which rather begs the question of what we should call those stripey ponies running around in nature documentaries. It comes from the aphorism that when you hear hoofbeats behind you, you don't expect to see a zebra. This is a wise observation which is totally inapplicable to anyone who lives in the African plains, but as it was coined by an American doctor in the 1940s, this oversight may perhaps be forgiven. The point is that when a doctor is presented with a set of symptoms which may be caused by a common illness or an uncommon one, the logical assumption should be that the patient most likely has the more common illness - even though there may be a temptation to go with the more dramatic diagnosis.
I have noticed this idea of being a medical zebra popping up in a few blogs by other people with rare pituitary tumours, particularly in those with Cushing's disease - possibly this is related to the fact that one of the symptoms of Cushing's is the development of dramatic stretchmarks of a stripey and thus zebra-like nature. A few further examples - here, here and here.
|A group of Cushing's sufferers at a recent conference.|
|Neighbours of Lord Rothschild may not only have expected to see zebras when they heard the sound of hoofbeats, but also had to leap out of their way.|
It's enough to make you wonder how rare your condition would have to be before you were considered a medical okapi...
*Unless someone had painted a horse to look like a zebra. Which would be a pretty weird thing to do.
**Hint: one of these is not actually a symptom.