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).

1. THE BUNKER

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.

2. HOLLYWOOD CODE

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.

3. BEEMER

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.

4. CLINIC UNIT

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.

5. HORRENDOMA

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

6. GOMER

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.

7. WHINEY PRIMEY

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.

8. FOOBA

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.

9. COWBOY

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.

11. ZEBRA

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.”

14. CHEECH

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.

15. FREQUENT FLYER

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

16. DYSCOPIA

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.

17. STATUS DRAMATICUS

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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March 29, 2016 - 12:00am
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