The nurse gave her morning report on the condition of one of our patients, an elderly gentleman with congestive heart failure. She noted concerns about his food intake and breathing, confirmed he’d lost weight in recent weeks, and reminded the other hospice staff about his fall on the way to the bathroom before he became a hospice patient.
“Anything else?” the hospice medical director asked.
After a glance at her laptop screen, the nurse answered, “Some skin tears around the coccyx. But we’re taking care of it.”
Ah, the infamous coccyx. It’s one of those odd, oft-used words in the medicalese describing the ills plaguing a typical hospice patient. The word of Greek origin only has six letters and two syllables, but it’s quite a mouthful to pronounce.
Coccyx. Or, as I hear it with my non-medical ears: cock six. Say it fast! Kinda sounds a tad rude or embarrassing, eh?
It’s the tailbone, the tail end of the spinal column. In Greek, the word meant cuckoo (kókkyx) since the slightly protruding bone resembled a cuckoo’s beak. Having never seen a cuckoo’s beak, I’ll trust those gone but not forgotten Greek geeks.
I suppose, if our polite, professional nurses wanted to, they could wield different words for the skin tear’s location: arse, booty, bumpers, buns, butt, caboose, can, derriere, fanny, hams, haunch, keister, six, trunk or tush. We have an abundance of nouns for our rear end’s zip code. I suspect the more slang we sling, the more likely we’re describing territory that’s culturally embarrassing or taboo.
Embarrassing or not, the coccyx is one of the body’s pressure points. If you lie on your back, the bone shaped like a cuckoo’s beak presses against the skin. A reddish area becomes a skin tear becomes a bedsore. Not good. A bedsore means a patient can no longer move and both the medical team and family will make sure to keep helping the patient to adjust from one side to another.
We humans are built for motion. Our bodies heal better when active. Our minds grow when we are challenged to learn. The nurse will stay alert to the status of the skin around the bone shaped like a cuckoo’s beak. Sometimes, we can’t shift positions on our own. Sometimes we need help from others. Even as we slow down, even as we near death, hospice can help us keep moving, and—for the patient and their family—keep growing.
(Like all medical fields, hospice vigorously protects a patient’s privacy. I’ll take care with what and how I share about my experiences. Names will be changed and some events combined and/or summarized.)
Bird picture from here.
(From – “Plate 165: Le Coucou de Mindenao,” François-Nicolas Martinet, Ornithologie [Histoire des Oiseaux Peints dans Tous Leurs Aspects Apparents et Sensibles] [Ornithology], 1773-1792)by