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17 Secret Slang Terms Your Doctor Might Be Using

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Thanks to the popularity of shows like ER and Grey's Anatomy, you probably know a handful of medical terms. For instance, stat, or “at once," CCs (cubic centimeters), and Code Blue (a patient needs resuscitation). But how about Code Brown? Or incarceritis? Or turfing?

In his book The Secret Language of Doctors, emergency room physician Dr. Brian Goldman takes a look at hundreds of such slang terms. Here we explore 17 of them (and fair warning, some of these you might be better off not knowing).


The bunker is where medical residents meet to hand over patients, as well as, according to Goldman, where they often let loose—with tirades riddled with slang. The term might come from the military meaning of the word, a dug-out or reinforced shelter.


While a Code Blue mobilizes the cardiac team to resuscitate a patient, Hollywood Code signals a “pretend resuscitate”—in other words, going through the motions of saving a patient who is beyond saving, usually for the benefit of the patient’s loved ones.

Named for what's seen in the movies or on television, Hollywood Code also goes by "No Code" (as in “No Code Blue”), Slow Code, Show Code, and Light Blue.


While a beemer might refer to the ride sitting in an orthopedic surgeon’s driveway, it’s also slang for an obese patient. Beemer comes from BMI, or body mass index, a measure of body fat based on height and weight. Beemer Code refers to an extra fee a doctor might charge for treating an obese patient.

Other terms that reference obese patients include Yellow Submarine, an obese patient yellowed from liver disease, and harpooning the whale, attempting to give an epidural to an obese woman in labor.


Clinic unit is used to indicate weight, where one clinic unit equals 200 pounds. "'Three clinic units' is a sneaky way of saying the patient weighs 600 pounds,” says Goldman. This might come from the idea that a clinic is equal to an entire facility in a hospital, which, one assumes, weighs a lot.


This term for an especially bad or complicated medical condition is a blend of horrendous and -oma, the suffix for tumors.


GOMER seems to have a couple of different meanings and a few different theories regarding its origin. Some say the acronym stands for “get out of my emergency room” and refers to old and sometimes demented patients with several complicated conditions. Others say it actually means “grand old man of the emergency room.”

The word was popularized by Samuel Shem, the pen name of physician Stephen Bergman, in his 1978 novel House of God. Here, it's used to refer to patients who visit the hospital frequently with "complicated but uninspiring and incurable conditions." However, the Oxford English Dictionary’s earliest citation is from a July 1972 issue of National Lampoon: “Gomer, a senile, messy, or highly unpleasant patient.” This might come from the earlier military slang for someone inept or stupid, perhaps named for the bumbling Gomer Pyle of The Andy Griffith Show.


whiney primey is a first-time mother-to-be who comes to the hospital over and over, mistakenly thinking she's in labor. Primey comes from primipara, a woman who’s pregnant for the first time, also known as a primp.


Perhaps inspired by FUBAR (military slang for “f***ed up beyond all recognition”), FOOBA stands for "found on orthopaedics barely alive.” It's thought among medical professionals that orthopedic surgeons are excellent technicians but lacking in other areas. For instance, an internist Goldman knows says he’s seen many patients in orthopedic wards go into heart failure due to too much IV fluid.

Orthopedic surgeons are sometimes called orthopods, which is considered disparaging because of its resemblance to anthropoid, resembling an ape.


Cowboys refer to surgeons in general, with the idea that surgeons often "ride by the seat of their pants."

10. FLEA

The internist is the lowest on the medical totem pole and so the nickname, flea, seems fitting. Some say flea stands for “f***ing little esoteric a**hole,” but that’s probably a backronym.


According to Goldman, internists have a habit of making rare diagnoses, which are known as zebras. This slang term was coined in the 1940s by a Dr. Theodore Woodward, says linguist Barry Popik, who told his students, “Don’t look for zebras on Greene Street.” The quote somehow became, “When you hear hoofbeats behind you, don’t expect to see a zebra,” meaning don’t look for a more exotic diagnosis when something more routine fits the bill.

12. FTD

This FTD isn’t about saying it with flowers, it’s about a “failure to die.” Referring to elderly patients. FTDs are also known as walkers, which comes from the zombie slang term in The Walking Dead.

13. SFU 50

Used in surgery, SFU 50 is code to the anesthesiologist that the patient is becoming disruptive and needs to be given a drug to quiet down. The term is a combination of Effective Dose 50, which refers to a drug dose that produces an “all or nothing” effect in 50 percent of patients, and “shut the f**k up.”


To cheech, or cheech-bomb, is to order every test imaginable to diagnose an illness. It’s unclear how this term came about or if it has anything to do with Cheech and Chong. A synonym is flogging, as in flogging a dead horse.


frequent flyer is a patient who visits the ER often, usually “because they have no other place to receive care,” says Goldman.


Dyscopia, a mock-Latin term, means “failure to cope,” and refers to patients who have are having a difficult time emotionally. Dyscopia plays on dystopia, as well as other dys- medical lingo such as dyspeptic, dysphagia, and dystrophy.


Another mock-Latin phrase, status dramaticus refers to overly anxious patients who believe they're at death's door. The term plays on status asthmaticus, a severe asthma attack that doesn’t respond to usual treatment. 

Similar to status dramaticus is Camille, someone who believes (wrongly) that they’re about to die and aren’t shy about voicing it. The term is named for the tuberculosis-stricken heroine in the film Camille, based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas, who, spoiler alert, dies in the end in her lover’s arms.

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Owning a Dog May Add Years to Your Life, Study Shows
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We've said that having a furry friend can reduce depression, promote better sleep, and encourage more exercise. Now, research has indicated that caring for a canine might actually extend your lifespan.

Previous studies have shown that dog owners have an innate sense of comfort and increased well-being. A new paper published in Scientific Reports and conducted by Uppsala University in Sweden looked at the health records of 3.4 million of the country's residents. These records typically include personal data like marital status and whether the individual owns a pet. Researchers got additional insight from a national dog registry providing ownership information. According to the study, those with a dog for a housemate were less likely to die from cardiovascular disease or any other cause during the study's 12-year duration.

The study included adults 40 to 80 years old, with a mean age of 57. Researchers found that dogs were a positive predictor in health, particularly among singles. Those who had one were 33 percent less likely to die early than those who did not. Authors didn't conclude the exact reason behind the correlation: It could be active people are more likely to own dogs, that dogs promoted more activity, or that psychological factors like lowered incidences of depression might bolster overall well-being. Either way, having a pooch in your life could mean living a longer one.

[h/t Bloomberg]

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Live Smarter
Not Sure About Your Tap Water? Here's How to Test for Contaminants
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In the wake of Flint, Michigan's water crisis, you may have begun to wonder: Is my tap water safe? How would I know? To put your mind at ease—or just to satisfy your scientific curiosity—you can find out exactly what's in your municipal water pretty easily, as Popular Science reports. Depending on where you live, it might even be free.

A new water quality test called Tap Score, launched on Kickstarter in June 2017, helps you test for the most common household water contaminants for $120 per kit. You just need to take a few samples, mail them to the lab, and you'll get the results back in 10 days, telling you about lead levels, copper and cadmium content, arsenic, and other common hazardous materials that can make their way into water via pipes or wells. If you're mostly worried about lead, you can get a $40 test that only tells you about the lead and copper content of your water.

In New York State, a free lead-testing program will send you a test kit on request that allows you to send off samples of your water to a state-certified lab for processing, no purchase required. A few weeks later, you'll get a letter with the results, telling you what kind of lead levels were found in your water. This option is great if you live in New York, but if your state doesn't offer free testing (or only offers it to specific locations, like schools), there are other budget-friendly ways to test, too.

While mailing samples of your water off to a certified lab is the most accurate way to test your water, you can do it entirely at home with inexpensive strip tests that will only set you back $10 to $15. These tests aren't as sensitive as lab versions, and they don't test for as many contaminants, but they can tell you roughly whether you should be concerned about high levels of toxic metals like lead. The strip tests will only give you positive or negative readings, though, whereas the EPA and other official agencies test for the concentration of contaminants (the parts-per-billion) to determine the safety of a water source. If you're truly concerned with what's in your water, you should probably stick to sending your samples off to a professional, since you'll get a more detailed report of the results from a lab than from a colored strip.

In the future, there will likely be an even quicker way to test for lead and other metals—one that hooks up to your smartphone. Gitanjali Rao, an 11-year-old from Colorado, won the 2017 Young Scientist Challenge by inventing Tethys, a faster lead-testing device than what's currently on the market. With Tethys, instead of waiting for a lab, you can get results instantly. It's not commercially available yet, though, so for now, we'll have to stick with mail-away options.

[h/t Popular Science]


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