Archive for Medicalese

Hospice: Understanding the Unpronounceable

In a hospice meeting, there were a dozen or so huge, clunky words on several patients’ charts that underscored my medical ignorance. But one stood out because it had appeared on a couple of charts and was the longest of all of them:

Thrombocytopenia

Because it’s easy to scour the internet for clues after seeing the strangest of words written on patient summaries or spoken by hospice colleagues, and because my search included the Mayo Clinic’s website, I’m confident that,

Thrombocytopenia is a condition in which you have a low blood platelet count. Platelets (thrombocytes) are colorless blood cells that help blood clot. Platelets stop bleeding by clumping and forming plugs in blood vessel injuries.

Thrombocytopenia often occurs as a result of a separate disorder, such as leukemia or an immune system problem. Or it can be a side effect of taking certain medications. It affects both children and adults.

Knowledge is power. Knowledge leads to better choices and decisions. Knowledge can be the difference between feeling overwhelmed and helpless vs. planning and taking future steps.

Nonetheless, some words intimidate. And not just in the medical/hospice realm. Like many kids in my generation, the film “Mary Poppins” introduced us to the silly and ridiculously long:  Read More →

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Sometimes (talking about) Death Gets Stuck in Our Throats

Have you ever heard someone react to a comment by responding, “That sounds Greek to me!”

In other words, we don’t comprehend the word or the statement. It doesn’t make sense.

That’s what I first thought about dysphagia when I started hearing it in hospice.

Huh? What?

In the case of dysphagia, it’s literally a Greek word and problematic to pronounce (dis-fay-gee-a) for most folks. The roots of the word are relatively simple. Dys is a prefix for, “No.” Think of the more commonly used dysfunctional or—because of the Hunger Games novels and their ilk—a grim, unsettling future world known as a dystopia.

Dysfunction = no function.

Dystopia = no good place.

The suffix phagia, though obscure and probably never used in our day-to-day conversations, also describes a familiar activity: eating. Medical professionals use dysphagia to identify patients that have difficulty with swallowing. In other words . . .

Dysphagia = no eating. Read More →

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Drugs, Doses, Dread & Delivery Options

pills

Around breakfast time, I usually shake out several pills into the palm of my hand . . .

The nurse arrived and sat beside my mother in the dimly lit hospital room.

One of the first things he said was, “This won’t hurt.”

He lied.

He was there to place a peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC, or “pick”) into Mom’s upper right arm. She’d been offered Dilaudid—a brand name for hydromorphone, a narcotic stronger than morphine—for pain management. The medication would be housed in a CADD pump (Computerized Ambulatory Drug Delivery) connected to her PICC line. The linked pump and the catheter would give a predetermined, regular amount of medication to ease her physical agony. A “button” could be pressed on the CADD pump for additional dosages.

Are your eyes glazing over with all the medicalese?

Mom’s body was riddled with cancer and the two surgeries undertaken to “relieve” discomfort had added complications. As I calmly write this three years after her death, I understand why she said “Yes” to that PICC line: she wanted the wrenching pain to end and she was ready to die.

But the nurse, who seemed rightly weary in the near midnight hour when he entered Mom’s room, first caused more pain.

He swabbed her arm with disinfectant and inserted a needle.

She grimaced.

I held her left hand. Watching her tore my heart apart. Read More →

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