Medical terminology can be difficult, even for doctors—but more so for patients. By now, you probably don’t even raise an eyebrow when the patient refers to his prostate gland as a prostrate gland. Or, as one doctor noted, patients often say subscription instead of prescription. “I’ve used the wrong term myself,” she said. “Too many magazines in the exam room?!”
Recently, MDLinx asked readers to respond to a survey that asked: “What medical term do patients most commonly misunderstand?” More than 160 physicians in primary care and across all specialties responded. But some of these weren’t just common misunderstandings—some were uncommonly hilarious mix-ups.
Take, for example, these three spiritually-minded patients: The one who termed her fibroids of the uterus as “fireballs of the Eucharist,” or the one who referred to his macular degeneration as “immaculate generation,” and then there’s the patient who described his creeping meningitis as “creeping meninjesus.”
Here are more amusing, eye-opening, and cringe-worthy anecdotes of patients who’ve tortured, twisted, and misunderstood medical terminology.
Be still my beating heart. One patient mistook “You have a heart murmur” for “You are a hot mama,” explained a cardiologist. “The patient was upset with the doctor because of the misinterpretation—by the patient.” And when the doctor said he did not call her a hot mama, she was even more upset.
Look it up on the internetitis. Most patients don’t understand the role of -itis, noted one surgeon: “So it has become a regular encounter in which a patient comes to me and says, ‘My appendicitis is aching.’ When I’m in mood, I tell him, ‘Your appendicitis is normal, don’t worry.’”
A bitter pill to swallow. A family medicine physician explained that he was “indicating to a patient the use of some vaginal suppositories, [which] was even described in the prescription. The patient misunderstood that they were oral, so she took them all without getting better, obviously.” No word on whether the patient refilled her Rx.
She don’t lie, she don’t lie, she don’t lie… A cardiologist described his encounter with a venerable 85-year-old patient: “A little old lady said once to me, ‘Doctor, I cannot do more of this cocaine, it’s just wrong for my body.’ I said, ‘Wow, this world we live in...’ But when I reviewed her medications, I saw: ‘Codeine, syrup, indication cough.’ I asked her, ‘So, is your cough syrup the one that doesn’t agree with your body?’ ‘Yes doctor, the cocaine syrup!’ I gladly discontinued the codeine for her.”
Can I bill twice for that? Said one psychiatrist: “I routinely have patients tell me they have bipolar disorder as well as manic depression. They often refuse to acknowledge that these are the same disease.” Perhaps they also have split personality disorder?
Another ‘lousy’ day in pediatrics. One pediatrician said, “A patient wanted to be seen for lice, but the receptionist wrote on the schedule: ‘Patient wants to be seen for lies.’” Well, that’s just nitpicking.
S’tick it where the sun don’t shine. A surgeon recalls: “A while back, I did a colonoscopy on an inpatient. The findings included diverticulitis. When I dropped the patient off, the written abbreviated op note documented ‘Tics.’ The following day I came by to round, and one of the nurses seriously asked me how a patient could get ‘ticks’ in their colon.”
Over my dead body. “While conducting a wellness visit with a 76-year-old male, he proudly reported that his last ‘autopsy’ was a year ago and it turned out fine,” explained a family medicine physician. “A more detailed history revealed that it was actually a colonoscopy.”
You may need a Kleenex for this. “I once had a resident working with me who told the patient’s mother that she had rhinorrhea, but the mother thought she said gonorrhea,” said a pediatrician. “This did not go over well.”
Their brains aren’t working overtime. One psychiatrist related: “Some patients call Alzheimer’s disease ‘all-timers,’ as in ‘I don’t have all-timer’s, I think I have part-timer’s disease.’” Apparently, it affects patients less than 30 hours a week.
Like father, like son. A pediatrician reported: “During a follow-up visit to discuss her obese son’s lipid panel, I relayed to Mom that her son’s cholesterol was quite elevated. Mom blurts out that the son’s father has elevated cholesterol as well, so it must be ‘generic.’ I said, ‘I think you mean genetic.’”
Practice makes perfect. An obstetrician/gynecologist said “practice” is the one medical term that patients don’t really understand: “They think doctors practice on them for trial and error.” You’ll get it right one of these days.
That’s one happy baby. “A grandma started telling her friends that I am a miracle worker because her 1-month-old grandson is doing better with his fussiness and spit-ups after putting him on ‘Xanax,’” a pediatrician explained. “God forbid, but it wasn’t ‘Xanax’—it was Zantac.”
Maybe size does matter. “A patient whom I had recently prescribed Viagra 50 mg PRN bumped into me in the hospital cafeteria. ‘Doc, I tried the 50-millimeter Viagra—it didn’t work!’ he said. ‘OK, well, try 100 millimeters,’ I responded.” Give ’em an inch and they’ll take a yard.