Juggling Jargon

When I started medical school, multiple people said to me that the medical jargon you need to learn during medical school is the equivalent of learning:-

a) a new language, or

b) seven thousand new words, or

c) other impressive feats of linguistic prowess

Whilst I’m sure none of these things are actually true, they sound great, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ll bust these anecdotes out to students / patients / family members when the opportunity presents itself. Me being able to pronounce choledocholithiasis and know what it means surely deserves praise and admiration. (As long as you don’t require too much of an explanation)

So, little wonder if patients find the world of medical jargon absolutely and completely bewildering. It’s a difficult job as a GP to straddle the worlds, using medical jargon in referral letter and conversations with partialist* colleagues, but plain world language to help our patients understand what’s going on. Somewhere in the middle though, some fantastic misperceptions, mispronunciations and euphemisms come through. Below is a list of my favourites that always put a twinkle in my eye mid-consult, endear my patients to me greatly, and remind me how important it is for patients to understand their conditions well.

1. ‘Pig stye’ instead of stye or hordeolum. Imagine, a happy pig and associated filth literally stuck under your eyelid. No wonder you’ve come in! It must be both painful AND stinky. This was new for me this year.

2. ‘Arteritis’ instead of arthritis. Special because the mispronunciation is also a medical condition. Every time I hear this one, and quickly realise that it’s a disease of bone and not blood vessel, I breathe a sigh of relief – only TV doctors actually know stuff about vasculitides. (Oh, and Casey Parker over at BroomeDocs…)

3. ‘Stint’ instead of stent. ‘I’ve had a stint in the hospital’ quickly falls from all admissions to CCU only once you sort out the context! Or perhaps some kind of Kiwi medicine…

4. ‘Sinus’, or ‘The Sinus’ – you’re coming to me and complaining of an anatomical body part. Even if you said it right, you can’t have the antibiotics!

5. ‘Gastric’ or ‘The Gastric’ – another classic pathological body part euphemism.

6. ‘Sugar’ for good ol’ diabetes mellitus. Kinda right, but often Oh-so-wrong – ‘But I don’t eat any sugar!’

7. ‘Nerves’ for any anxiety disorder. What I’m sure started as a euphemism in much more stigmatising times is now a confusing term and I’m never sure what people understand of it. Oh wait, hang on, does medical science even get this?

8. ‘Up the shit’ – this really doesn’t fit the theme, but I’m fascinated by it anyway. I’d never heard this before moving to the NSW Mid North Coast. Do other people hear this too?! Etymologically it’s fascinating, from whence did it come?

Now, I know that you’re supposed to have a nice list of ten things in a proper blog post, but they’re the main ones that come to mind quickly. What pearlers do you hear?

* A common but linguistically incorrect alternative for the term partialist is ‘specialist’.

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