Sunday, June 3, 2007

Medical Terminology for the Layman


Today marks my 4-year anniversary at American Ambulance as an Emergency Medical Dispatcher. To say that the transition from police dispatcher to ambulance dispatcher was a little tricky would be about right.

Prior to setting foot in the "Ivory Tower of Dispatch" at AASI, I was totally clueless as to how a commercial ambulance service operated. I was under the misguided impression that ambulances were like firetrucks or police cruisers in that I thought they either stayed in the bay waiting for the tones to go off or cruised around in their assigned "beats" waiting for some sort of emergency that required their services to occur. Wrong!

For some reason, I never gave a thought to scheduled transportation for patients (which I had a bad former police dispatcher habit of calling "subjects" when I first started!). Trips from nursing homes to doctor's appointments, transports to dialysis, transfers between one medical facility to another ... those were all things that I had absolutely no clue about. 911 I was more than familiar with but calls from SNFs (skilled nursing facilities) and hospital discharge planners were completely alien to me.

Even more confusing was all of the billing information I had to learn. At the Police Department we didn't need to worry about a person's insurance coverage unless it was motor vehicle related but at American I've had to learn about Medicare, Medicaid, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Aetna, Healthnet, Connecticut Health Network - the list is as endless as are the requirements for each type!

One of the other things that I was pretty clueless about was medical terminology in general. If someone had difficulty breathing than that was what they had not dyspnea! A nosebleed wasn't epistaxis, blood in the urine sure the heck wasn't called hematuria, and as far as arrhythmias went I wouldn't have known the difference between bradycardia (slow heartbeat) and tachycardia (fast heartbeat) were I experiencing it myself!

Four years and countless dispatches later I can now almost pronounce 'epistaxis' without tripping over it too badly and some of the other terms have become quite familiar to me. I'm still no expert, and never will be, as I don't work directly with the patients but instead hide behind a dispatch console and tell EMTs and paramedics where to go and what to do when they get there. As I have said in several posts previous to this one, I know my place in the medical field and it's not out in the field looking at broken bones or other assorted traumas!

I thought the rest of you might enjoy some basic medical terminology so that when you're watching House or Grey's Anatomy or another medical show, you'll know what they're talking about and have even more of an appreciation for the drama that can ensue in any sort of medical environment. Use these words to impress your friends and family with your new-found medical knowledge and razzle-dazzle your own doctor the next time you're in for a check-up!

Medical Terminology for the Layman
  • Benign: What you be after you be eight
  • Bacteria: Back door to cafeteria
  • Cesarean Section: A neighborhood in Rome
  • D & C: Where Washington is
  • Dilate: To live long
  • Enema: Not a friend
  • Fester: Quicker than someone else
  • Fibula: A small lie
  • Impotent: Distinguished, well known
  • Labor Pain: Getting hurt at work
  • Medical Staff: A Doctor's cane
  • Node: I knew it
  • Pelvis: Second cousin to Elvis
  • Rectum: Damn near killed him
  • Seizure: Roman emperor
  • Tablet: A small table
  • Tumor: More than one
  • Urine: Opposite of you're out
  • Varicose: Near by/close by
  • PRN: Urinating nurse
Oh come now - you didn't think I was going to be serious, did you? That's what they make WebMD for!


  1. 'Subjects' was a good term to use for those the police arrested. It must have been a hard habit to break.

  2. Hee Hee Hee...Linda, you made my Sunday morning w/ that post. Thanks! I've always enjoyed your sense of humor.

    ...And you're right; working @ AASI has a tendency of changing just about anyone who comes to work here (usually for the better). Lots of stuff I didn't know squat about, now I have a better understanding of, thanks to the folks I work with. Good post, Linda.

    BTW; As you say your place is behind the console, I know my place is NOT behind the "mike"!! You've done well in a difficult endeavor!

  3. Anonymous10:37 AM EDT

    Interesting to read about your learning curve. Loved the funny definitions, too!

  4. Congratulations on the anniversary. I hope you dilate.

    Your peace globe is really neat.

  5. Enema - not a friend - INDEED!!

    These are great they made me LOL!

  6. It's very early Monday morning here (5.38am to be precise). And I'm trying not to laugh too loud so I don't wake anyone else up yet!!

  7. This was informative (had no idea), but the ending had me rolling on the floor. Using a little gallows humor here my friend. Peace :)

  8. Excellent linda, happy 4th, many more.

  9. OMG! That was sooooooooooo funny.


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