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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Overdue For A Stethoscope

One of the single most important pieces of equipment for a doctor is a stethoscope.  I use it on every patient and it is the only way to properly make an initial assessment of the heart and lungs.  Most people may not realize that not all stethoscopes are created equally, and some are better than others.  You can buy a very basic one for $10-15, and you can also spend $200-250 on a high-end one.  The price reflects the quality (in general), and yes, quality makes a big difference.
When I graduated from vet school in 1997 I had only a basic one.  It wasn't the best but wasn't the worst, and got the job done through school.  But I knew that I wanted a much better one when I started practicing.  One of my classmates had bought a Littmann Cardiology II early in vet school, but she was going into swine medicine and wouldn't be needing one like that.  So she sold it to me for $50, a really great price at that time for a used high-quality stethoscope.  And that stethoscope has served me very well for the last 17 years.
For those who don't know much about these things, Littmann is pretty much the preeminent brand of stethoscopes.  They make the best ones, and are the most recommended by doctors and nurses.  At the time I got it my stethoscope was one of the best out there.  But nothing lasts forever, and recently I started having problems.  I would periodically have difficulty hearing out of the right side, and nothing that I did helped.  I cleaned the ear pieces, tried to blow through the tube to clear any obstruction, and so on.  I could still use it, but sound would inexplicably and unpredictably go in and out.
Obviously I can't practice like this.  I really need a working stethoscope and I like using the high quality ones.  I've replaced the ear buds, seals, and diaphragms in the past as part of routine care, but I started to think that this was time to look at getting a new one.  After all, this particular item had been used for nearly 20 years and had far exceeded its warranty with minimal problems.  In fact, I think the fact that it lasted this long is a testimony to the quality of Littmann stethoscopes.
So I looked around and settled on a Littmann Master Cardiology.  This is the top of the line stethoscope and is the best you can get without going to electronic ones.  It set me back $200, but if I can get even close to the same duration of use it will be well worth the investment.
Things have changed since I last purchased a stethoscope.  Now you can get differen color tubes and bells.  What excited me most was the fact that I could get different finishes on the metal!  Of course a simple steel color won't do.  I ended up ordering one with a brass finish.
Why brass?  Okay, this is where my geek side comes in.  I really like the style and aesthetics of steampunk, which leans heavily towards brass, copper, and earthy colors.  When I saw this particular finish I immediately though "Steampunk!".  Though there are no gears on it (I'm still working out how to improve that part of it and add something to give a more "steampunk-y" feel), it is really, really nice.  It  also stands out at my clinic so everyone knows which one is mine.
Today was the first day I had a chance to use it, and I'm loving it already.  It's only a minor upgrade from my previous one, but it works great and looks spiffy.  It has also spurred discussions among the staff about stethoscopes and quality.
By the way, I'm just excited and geeking out a bit about my new toy.  This is in no way and advertisement for Littmann and I received no money for making this blog.  It really just is "a vet's guide to life", showing how something seemingly unimportant to the average person can instill a bit of giddiness in the appropriate person. 
Here's to this one lasting another 20 years!