How many snakes does it take?

With all our patients discharged on Friday, it was a much-appreciated break from early morning patient care. I had a chance to catch up on sleep, work on my senior paper, fill out my procedures book, study, finish patient paperwork and even had time to spend with my visiting fiance. Although I was on call from 8AM Saturday to 8 AM sunday, my pager didn’t make a peep all weekend. I only checked it 100 times a day to make sure it hadn’t been silenced by accident. It was also a beautiful weekend with sunshine, temperatures in the mid-fifties and a light breeze.

I started off 4th year with four white coats. It was Friday I realized I was down to one white coat. I searched the entire apartment, and not a trace of the three missing whitecoats. I also couldn’t account for 2 sets of surgical scrubs. The most disappointing part of this is one of the missing white coats was the one given to me at the welcoming ceremony of 1st year. I picked up two white coats at the only place around that sells them, and due to the minimal selection…I ended up with two large coats. I mean very large. They dwarf me. The replacement scrubs I purchased are also a tad…oversized. If only I had learned to hem or sew or crochet or anything of that domestic nature. Instead, my only option is to use my practice suture material and rig some sort of inverted simple interrupted. My weekend had some free time, but not enough free time to afford suture-hemming my gargantuan white coats.

It was after leaving the store that my fiance raised the question of why there is variation in the number of snakes on the vetmed staff. Some staffs have two, some staffs have one. Maybe I should be embarrassed because I did not know the answer. Sure, I identify with the staff and most of our vetmed supply has one snake. But, sitting right next to a shirt with a two-snake logo was a shirt with a one snake-logo and the same “veterinary medicine” label beneath it.

So, we did what any curious person would do if they happened to be in possession of a smart phone. Googled it.

Caduceus vs. Aesculapius

the Caduceus


The word itself is derived from the Greek root for “Herald’s wand” or “badge” of office. We read that the original caduceus was an olive branch but at some underdetermined time, it changed identities to become a staff entwined by two snakes. Looking into mythology, the caduceus is associated with the winged, Greek messenger for the gods, Hermes. I never associated Hermes with medicine or healing, but apparently he as cited as the Guardian of health. He was given the staff by Apollo, who presented it with the intent to bring peace and overcome disease.

Aesculapius (Asklepios, Aesclepius)

Historically, the medical symbolism is most associated with the staff of Aesculpius and the single snake that winds around it. Aesculapius, the son of the Greek God Apollo and mortal woman Coronis, was given the staff by his father. Apollo, in possession of all medical knowledge, passed his healing powers to Chiron, the centaur, and Aesculapius. parents were the mortal Coronis and Apollo, the god who possessed all medical knowledge.


I went on to read about Aesculapius’ bazaar serpent ¬†encounter. While in possession of the staff, Aesculpius witness a snake slithering from a crack in the earth. It then wrapped itself around the staff. Apparently this was as threatening or startling to Aesculpius as it would be to most people these days because he subsequently killed the snake. After killing the snake, he saw another snake emerge from the same crack in the earth. The snake was carrying a leaf in its mouth, and when it placed the leaf on the head of the slain snake, the slain snake was brought back to life. The serpent (this part was vague) went on to become Aesculapius’ companion while Aesculapius went on to become the patron of the Greek healing temples.


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