If you’ve ever spent time in a hospital or doctor’s office, you know that people in medicine seem to have their own language.
But while doctors may throw around a lot of jargon, there’s often a simple translation of what they’re trying to say.
Emergency room physician Brian Goldman documented several examples of the obscure terms doctors use in his book “The Secret Language of Doctors: Cracking the Code of Hospital Slang.”
Read on to find out what your doctor is really saying:
People who work in hospitals have playful (and sometimes not-so-playful) nicknames for each other. A cowboy is what some doctors call surgeons to suggest they operate first and think later.
Flea is the disparaging nickname some doctors give to internists — people who specialize in internal medicine, and are seen by some as the lowest on the medical totem pole.
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Apparently some doctors don’t take kindly to orthopedic surgeons, either. Goldman says doctors describe some patients as FOOBA — “found on orthopedics, barely alive,” that is — to suggest that an orthopedic surgeon fixed their bones, but missed critical signs of disease elsewhere in the patient’s body.
The word is a play on FUBAR, the colorful military expression meaning “f—ed up beyond all recognition,” Goldman wrote.
A GOMER is an older “problem patient” who is frequently admitted to the hospital with a litany of complicated conditions.
“GOMERs are usually old, demented, and sick with a half dozen or more illnesses pressed into a package of decrepitude,” Goldman wrote. “Doctors can perform all manner of medical miracles on a GOMER, but you end up with is a GOMER who is less ill than before, but a GOMER nonetheless.”
Some say the word stands for “Get out of my emergency room,” while others contend it’s named after the slack-jawed Gomer Pyle from “The Andy Griffith Show.”
Circling the drain
“Circling the drain” is the grim term used to describe a patient who is on the brink of death.
Doctors use the word “horrendoma” to refer to a particularly horrible or unusual medical condition.
The word is a pseudo-medical-sounding word combining “horrible” and “-oma,” the suffix used for tumors.
A frequent flyer is someone who visits the hospital over and over again.
“Frequent flyers are disproportionate ER users because the ER is the one place that can’t turn them away,” Goldman wrote.
It’s safe to say frequent flyers aren’t regarded in hospitals the same way they are at airports.
To cheech or to cheech-bomb is to order every test imaginable to solve a confounding medical condition. No relation to Mr. Marin.
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Doctors are “hanging crepe” when they prepare the family of a patient for the patient’s death. That doesn’t always mean the patient, is doomed, however.
“‘Hanging the crepe’ is an old phrase, referring to the no-fail ploy of foretelling a bad outcome to patient, family and friends,” neurologist Joseph Friedman wrote. “If the prediction comes true, the doctor was prescient, and if not true, a savior.”
The saying comes from the practice of hanging black crepe fabric over a door to signify a family is in mourning.
Nothing icky about this one — if it’s time to do “liver rounds,” that means happy hour is about to start.
Doctors use the medical-sounding “status dramaticus” to refer to an overly anxious patient who seems to be staging an elaborate performance to demonstrate their pain.
They often demand to be treated immediately, and it takes a skilled doctor or nurse to tell when a patient is merely exaggerating.