Heart Views

: 2023  |  Volume : 24  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 168--169

Metaphors, Similes, and Medicine

Rachel Hajar 
 Sr. Consultant Cardiologist, Director of HH Publications and Executive Coordinator for Research, Heart Hospital, Hamad Medical Corporation, Doha, Qatar; Director of Non-Invasive Cardiology (1981–2014)Heart Hospital, Hamad Medical Corporation, Doha, Qatar

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Rachel Hajar
Department of Cardiology, Heart Hospital, Hamad Medical Corporation, P. O. Box 3050, Doha

How to cite this article:
Hajar R. Metaphors, Similes, and Medicine.Heart Views 2023;24:168-169

How to cite this URL:
Hajar R. Metaphors, Similes, and Medicine. Heart Views [serial online] 2023 [cited 2023 Nov 29 ];24:168-169
Available from: https://www.heartviews.org/text.asp?2023/24/3/168/380494

Full Text


My heart is firmly seized

By a bird's claws;

My heart is tightly squeezed,

When Lila's name flows.

My body is tightly bound,

When the wide world I found

Is like a finger ring around.

Translated by: Dr. H.A. Hajar Albinali

The above is an ancient Arabic poem that illustrates the pain of myocardial infarction. The author uses a bird's claw tightly, squeezing his heart. It is a beautiful poem. It was translated by Dr. H.A. Hajar Albinali in 2003 for Heart Views. Dr. H. A. Hajar is now the Director of Medical Education at Hamad Medical Corporation. He was made adviser to the Amir (currently Father Amir). His past appointments were the following: Chief of Cardiology, Rumailah Hospital, and HMC (1978 – 2005); Managing Director of HMC (1979-1990); Undersecretary of Health (1981- 1993); Chairman of the Board of HMC (1998 - 2003); Minister of Health, Qatar (1999 - 2005).

Another poem that uses similes was written in ancient Egypt. “Death is before me today/like the sky when it clears/like a man's wish to see home after numberless years of captivity.” The similes in this poem allow readers to imagine that death is relief from the storms of the world. Furthermore, it allows the reader of the poem to imagine that death is not supernatural and threatening. The similes are introduced by the word “like.”

We, as doctors, communicate with patients using metaphors and similes and patients, in turn, communicate with us using metaphors and similes. We, doctors and patients, use them every day. But it is not just doctors who use metaphors. In everyday language, we describe an annoying person as “a pain” – “a pain in the neck.” Metaphors abound in everyday life and language. To “take heart” is to have courage; to “speak from the heart” conveys sincerity. When we say “learned by heart,” we mean we have understood thoroughly or committed to memory; to “take something to heart” reflects worry or sadness.

A metaphor is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literarily applicable. A metaphor is the implicit comparison of one thing to another; thus, we refer to conditions and experiences such as a heart attack, burning pain, squeezing chest pain, cluster headache, or invasive cancer. The doctor asks the patient to describe the pain or how he feels when his condition strikes. We listen attentively. We listen for similes and metaphors. We hang on to the patient's description; we wait for the word “like” or “as” (simile).

Effective communication relies heavily on drawing comparisons and parallels to portray the clarity of an idea. We need a metaphor to describe an illness. They play a special role in facilitating communication and they are a relief from medical terminology. Only metaphors can express puzzlement and panic. Thus, Metaphors form an integral part of medicine because they bridge the communication gap between the layman and the doctor.

Concepts such as death and terminal diseases are likened to sports or war; such metaphors are intended to make the patient optimistic and strong about the future.

One disease that we particularly use the metaphor for is cancer. For example, the patient is said to have “defeated” cancer, and we “waged a war” on cancer.

For the medical practitioner, it is easier to talk about certain concepts, such as death or terminal disease, when they are likened to sports or war; such metaphors are intended to empower the patient to be optimistic and strong about the future.

Through metaphor, patients are empowered to “fight to the bitter end.” Metaphors, then, place power in the hands of the patients by making them feel confident and the severity of an illness is presented in a more indirect and nonthreatening manner.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.