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Get rid of your stethoscope!
  1. Christopher H Hawkes
  1. Correspondence to Professor C H Hawkes, Honorary Professor of Neurology, Neuroscience Centre, Blizard Institute of Cell and Molecular Science, Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, 4 Newark Street, London E1 2AT, UK; chrishawkes{at}

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When I was a medical student in the 1960s I had to purchase a stethoscope like everyone else then—and indeed now. Every possible noise that emanated from the patient had to be understood, right from tinkling bowel sounds to whispering pectoriloquy (remember that?). At the same time, I was also the proud owner of a much more exciting device—an old black Austin 7 saloon which I had bought for £17. It had many defects but it was fine for running around Edinburgh. Three times a year I travelled home by train from Edinburgh to Devon but one day I thought I would chance the long drive—400 miles. After some 50 miles, I reached a border town called Hawick—a place with a church, pub, even a post office and where the locals ate barley corn and licked shop window panes for entertainment. The engine was drinking oil (I knew it had that problem), it was emitting clouds of smoke and making loud banging noises. I pulled into the only garage and the engineer appeared with a metre long wooden stick with a cup at the end. He placed the blunt end on the engine casing and listened at the cup. “You've got a big end gone—possibly two … I would fill her up with oil and drive home.” And that is what I did, much to the amusement of my colleagues when I arrived home the same day. That was the currently available technology—a …

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; not externally peer reviewed.