The Secret Language of the Medical World
Doctors, nurses and various other medical staff: I love them. Not only do they do things I could never dream of being able to do, they also have their very own language. You would probably recognise some of the many abbreviations and slang words designed to avoid constant use of lengthy medical terms. What you may not know though, is that medical staff also have a plethora of euphemisms, slang words and acronyms to enable them to talk about the sensitive or inappropriate things they perhaps shouldn’t say in front of patients.
These range from ways to pass on information to colleagues that wouldn’t be particularly reassuring for patients to over-hear (that someone has died, for example), to naughty notes that let everyone know that a patient or staff member isn’t very pleasant to deal with. Some may be shocked and appalled at the knowledge that medical professionals aren’t always 100% professional. I like to look at it as a beautiful reminder of their humanity. In an environment where you need to be able to assess things from a clinical perspective, where you often need to leave your emotions out of your work and where you no doubt need a whole bunch of coping mechanisms, inappropriate and sometimes macabre humour is to be expected.
Medical slang will vary regionally, which means you can find a variety of terms with the same meaning. Here are a few death related euphemisms from around the world; some are a little close to the bone, so perhaps avoid if easily offended.
A patient’s “condition is changing” – a patient has died.
Celestial discharge – another term for death.
CTD – Circling the Drain, i.e. the patient hasn’t got long left.
Agnostication – an attempt to answer the question, “How long have I got?”
There’s also no shortage of phrases to describe patients who are, shall we say, one apple short of a fruit basket, as well as ways to refer to unusual or embarrassing injuries. On the one hand, you could argue that it is never appropriate for doctors to make fun of their patients, but on the other hand, some people really deserve it.
LOBNH – Lights On But Nobody Home.
CNS-QNS – Central Nervous System – Quantity Not Sufficient.
UBI – Unexplained Beer Injury.
You’ll be happy to know that doctors’ ire isn’t only aimed at their patients, but their colleagues too – and often the poor medical and nursing students.
Ringo – a member of a medical team who is expendable (from Ringo Starr, the least appreciated member of the Beatles)
Mini me – a medical student who imitates their senior colleague too much and says little for themselves.
Freud squad, gassers, slashers and baby catchers– psychiatrists, anaesthetists, surgeons and obstetricians.
Is this kind of medical slang completely inappropriate and unethical, or should medical professionals be allowed to have their fun?