Lost in translation: A hilarious journey navigating hospital jargon

Apr 22, 2023
Source: Getty

They say you are never too old to learn And this is especially true for those over 60s faced with translating complex medical conditions in hospital.

After several months in the hospital with an autoimmune condition, I have learned to nod wisely when doctors discuss your condition using acronyms and initials to explain what is wrong with you. In your mind, the doctor has simply quoted the alphabet to you but because you did not want to be seen as ignorant you nod and smile as if you have a clue about what he just said to you.=

“CIDP? That’s interesting” You say making a mental note to look it up on the Internet the moment the doctor leaves the room. It turns out this condition is an autoimmune illness resulting in gradual paralysis, the body attacks its own tissues. In CIDP, the body attacks the myelin sheaths. These are the fatty coverings on the fibres that insulate and protect the nerves.

So at an advanced age, I have discovered I have myelin sheaths covering my nerves. What else is hiding inside me? thanks to Queensland Health and a public hospital system that is light years ahead of private medical, on the Gold Coast at least, I have been fed into all manner of machines that go “ping” and have learned much about myself and all the parts within the body that have decided to go rogue on me.

There seems to be a mindset in the community that over 60s people need to have everything explained to us very slowly and carefully with lots of pauses between big words. This is because there is an attitude that we are either deaf or simply too old to understand anything now. Thankfully nursing staff are more realistic with their patients.

So when the nurses say that you are off for an MRI or a PET scan or a Plex or that you are about to have a course of IVIGs the safest course is to just smile, nod and see where this latest adventure takes you. Usually, it’s in the bowels of the hospital where you find the medical imaging Wizards.

Hospital jargon is a language in itself and hospitals should provide a dictionary of medical jargon for patients so we can look intelligent when the nurse says it’s time for OBS (observations such as blood pressure, temperature etc) or we are off for Apheresis (it means plasma exchange) we can nod wisely in approval.

Sadly our hospitals have a high ratio of over 60s patients and especially in the neurological ward where I am surrounded by stroke and dementia patients. I am neither but every day I get the cognitive functions test.

“Do you know where you are?”… “Do you know what month this is?”…. “Who is the Prime Minister of Australia?”… so it goes on.

I was woken at midnight recently for a blood pressure check and the nurse decided to do the interrogation as well. I decided this was not the best time for such questions.

“Do you know where you are?” she asked.

“Why? Have you forgotten?” I replied.

“Who is the Prime Minister?” she persevered.

“Bob Hawke” I replied.

“What year is this?”

“1867” I declared. After that, they left me alone. I’m probably in the files now as the demented old bloke in room 39.

There’s a serious side to this topic as those over 60 confront the reality that our health is failing and our bodies want retirement while our minds say we have a whole lifetime ahead of us. So the OBS and the machines that go “ping” and the doctors and the nursing staff and the unseen army of hospital staff keep us alive.

The demented old bloke in room 39 is very grateful to them all.

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