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John Seivert: Medical terminology gone awry

John Seivert


We all have had that fateful time trying to explain something to an employee or professional and can’t quit getting the right words out.

We try and describe the problem or product we think we need only to dig ourselves into a deeper hole. We may use our voice to try and replicate a noise our car makes to the mechanic. Or try and describe what cord we need to plug our computer into an external monitor so we can watch our computer screen on our large flat screen TV at home. I heard this last question asked at Staples just a few weeks ago, and it sounded like this, “Hey, can you help me find a cord that looks like a long thin, rounded-edged rectangle that will connect my computer to a TV that has a weird long hole that looks like a flat cave.” The employee responded, “Sure, you mean a USB C to HDMI. They are right over here.” He proceeded to get the woman exactly what she wanted in no time at all.

I think every patient over 60 with a lower extremity joint problem will complain about the “hitch in their giddy up .” Every field of study, profession, sport, or hobby has its lingo that follows.

The field of physical therapy and rehab medicine has its fair share of misused phrases and words. However, before I go into some rather funny miscues, I want you all to know that I am not poking fun at you but just sharing in the joy.

I know all the mechanics at the bike shops I use have a field day with my vocabulary every time I leave the shop with my bike in their hands for some repair. Here are a few of my favorites from over the years.

While working at Kaiser Permanente in Sacramento in the 1990’s I had a patient tell me that she had a “Jurassic spine” strain. She meant a thoracic spine strain. The movie Jurassic Park had just been released in June 1993.

I commonly hear “rotary cup” for rotator cuff muscles of the shoulder.

MIR – is commonly used for MRI. The Magnetic Resonance Imaging device is an imaging technique used in radiology to form pictures of the body’s anatomy and physiological processes.

On several occasions, I have heard patients stating they were scheduled to see an Orthodontist to see if surgery was going to be the plan for their hip problem. I casually said, “Yes, I believe the Orthopedic surgeon will be able to assess the need for that total hip replacement.”

People will metaphorically describe what they think they need. A patient asked me, “Can’t they just go in there and Roto-Rooter the spine to take the pressure off those nerves?”

“I had a laparoscopy on my knee to remove my cartilage.” He had arthroscopic surgery to perform a meniscectomy. A laparoscope uses the same technology as a surgical camera placed inside the abdomen or pelvis through small incisions.

My dentist friends and staff have also heard their fair share of miscues. “I’ve got the periodontal.” They were trying to say that since they have gum disease, they must see a Periodontist.

I was asked if Doctor Mike Jensen and Doctor Joel Richnak were psychiatrists. He wondered why he was being sent to them with chronic back pain. He didn’t want to talk to any shrink. I explained to him that they were Physiatrists. They are the experts of all musculoskeletal problems. The spelling and sound of the words are so closely related that this question is asked quite regularly. This is a specialty within the medical training of an MD or DO in the specialty of physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R).

“My back pain is from my psoriasis.” Psoriasis is a long-lasting, non-contagious autoimmune disease characterized by raised areas of abnormal skin. Scoliosis is a sideways curvature of the spine that can progress in the size of the curves with age.

If you are starting to feel a little self-conscious, don’t. We all make miscues daily, and if we can’t laugh at our mistakes, we might take life a bit too seriously. My recent embarrassing miscue happened a few weeks ago when a friend was traveling to Wyoming to do mountain biking and rock climbing. I asked if he was going to climb in the Piton Mountains. It’s the Teton Mountains in Grand Teton National Park. Climbers no longer use pitons because they are harmful to the environment and haven’t since the late 1970s. Wow, how I got an old climbing device and a mountain range switched, I have no idea, but my friend Rodger sure did get a kick out of that mistake. I have been teased about this almost daily.

Tune in next month for a continuation of a bit less serious subject matter like low back pain and have some more fun with medical jargon. We will look at the slang words that have become commonplace in our dialogue.

John Seivert is a doctor of physical therapy and he has been practicing for 34 years. He opened Body Logic Physical Therapy in Grass Valley in 2001. He has been educating physical therapists since 1986. Contact him at bodylogic2011@ yahoo.com



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