Placebo Journal is the magazine that dares to reveal the deep, dark secret of the medical profession: Doctors have a sick sense of humor.
Doctors joke about crab lice and projectile vomiting and the odd objects they occasionally find in their patients' orifices. Doctors think that impotence, incontinence and irritable bowel syndrome are funny. And of course they're right about that. Nothing tickles the funny bone quite like a comic essay on irritable bowel syndrome. Here are some of the more palatable parts of Placebo Journal's articles on that subject:
"I have had patients in my time that are so obsessed with their bowels that they have decided the world revolves around their stool. . . . Some doctors label these patients with a diagnosis of 'Irritable Bowel Syndrome.' . . . Even the name 'Irritable Bowel' is ridiculous. If you want to have some fun, try this. Talk as if you were a pirate and repeat after me, 'You don't want to mess with him, matey, he's got eerrrtibill bowwwellllll."
Placebo Journal is juvenile. It's immature. It's politically incorrect. It's also very funny, particularly if you're a doctor or a nurse or, for that matter, the patient of a doctor or a nurse.
Placebo Journal bills itself as "the only medical journal that will make you laugh." Its logo is a skull wearing Groucho Marx glasses. It promises to do what no medical publication has ever dared: "to capture the backroom humor that we all talk about that never gets recorded."
The magazine was founded in fall 2001 by Douglas Farrago, 38, a doctor with a family practice in Auburn, Maine. Farrago is also the inventor of the Knee Saver, a patented device used by baseball catchers to relieve the stress of squatting for a living. Farrago used the profits from his invention to fund Placebo Journal, producing a full-color magazine full of eye-catching graphics.
"There is no redeeming value to this magazine," he wrote in the first issue. "There are no delusions of grandeur. There is no mission to change the world. . . . Our concept is simple; we want to make physicians laugh at themselves, their patients and at medicine in general."
The first few issues were written almost entirely by Farrago and a few of his demented doctor pals. But since then, doctors and nurses who subscribe to the journal have chipped in with their own jokes, anecdotes and hilarious medical horror stories.
Many of these stories deal with the less savory aspects of the human body and its various effluents. They can get pretty gross. But they're valuable reminders that while doctors are highly educated, highly paid professionals, their daily work can be at least as disgusting as that of garbagemen or sewer workers.
Much of the satire in Placebo Journal is directed at what Farrago calls the "Axis of Medical Evil -- HMOs, malpractice insurance and the pharmaceutical industry."
Placebo Journal loves to mock the drug salesmen who besiege doctors daily, touting the dubious wonders of their company's pills and potions while denigrating their competitors' wares as little better than snake oil. When a drug industry trade group denounced the practice of advertising drugs by giving free pens, coffee cups and other trinkets to doctors, Placebo Journal responded with a hilarious rant:
"Don't these companies know that physicians are too cheap to buy their own pens? Don't they know that we would even risk our patients' lives by prescribing the wrong medicine just to get a free cup that has a nose on it because it touts an allergy medicine? I can't tell you how many of my off-days I spend wearing an ill-fitting orange T-shirt which states how impotence is no longer an issue for me or my patients. Where the hell are we going to get this stuff now?"
But the worst horrors of a doctor's life do not come from penny-pinching HMOs, sleazy malpractice lawyers or obnoxious pill pushers. The worst horrors come from patients. Patients tend to be sick people and sick people tend to be grumpy and whiny. They're also teeming with germs and oozing vile fluids. Patients can really ruin a doctor's day.
Placebo Journal has identified and categorized the various species of noxious patients. There are hypochondriacs suffering from a dubious ailment the journal dubbed CHAOS -- "Chronic Hurts All Over Syndrome." There are "cyberchondriacs" who diagnose their ills on the Internet. And the dreaded "tag-alongs" -- family members who come to the office with a patient "and try to get some free advice from you on the side: By the way, Doc, do you think this mole is cancerous?"
And let's not forget the patients who will say or do anything to get their hands on some pain medicine. The zany antics of these folks are recorded in a regular feature called "Those Darn Narc Seekers."
Placebo Journal sometimes prints helpful tips for patients, allegedly designed to be photocopied and given to them, but I doubt there's a doctor in America brave enough to do it. There's far too much truth in them. Here, for example, are a few excerpts from a helpful tipsheet about calling the "on-call" doctor:
What does my doctor do "on-call"?
He drinks heavily. Actually, that's a joke. Your doctor tries to spend time with his family. Unfortunately he is taken away from them many times to answer questions about someone's rash on their ass or toe that is sprained. This eventually leads to divorce, but don't let that stop you from calling.
When should I call the "on-call" doctor?
This is not an easy question to answer. Here are some examples:
-- Loss of Limb
Last fall, Farrago celebrated Placebo Journal's first anniversary by proclaiming himself "King of Medicine." If Elvis was the King of Rock and Michael Jackson is the King of Pop, he reasoned, why can't he be the King of Medicine?
"I want to welcome you to my Kingdom, Placebo Journal," he wrote. "My Kingdom and I stand for all that is absurd in medicine. We stand for the sublime, the gross, the humorous, the bizarre and the ridiculous part of this professional field."
The King is sick! Long live the King!
Placebo Journal is not sold on newsstands. Subscriptions cost $24 for a six-issue year and are available at placebojournal.com.