Homeostasis is defined as, “The ability or tendency of an organism or cell to maintain internal equilibrium by adjusting its physiological processes". It is one of the many medical terms I learned when I went to college to study Emergency Medical Science. I had expected that there was a whole new language to learn, and I was right. I actually took a course in Medical Terminology and it was infused throughout my other courses as well. I became so proficient in the understanding and usage of these specific terms and phrases, that I just knew that I would have no difficulty with the language of the job. That is before I got into the field and learn that there was more than one kind of medical terminology out there.
The first thing to hit me was the prevalent use of abbreviations. The texting generation has nothing on medical professionals when it comes to shortening words and phrases to expedite their documentation. Let's face it, patient charting is a necessary and vital part of any aspect of the medical field, but it's tedious and boring, and it gets in the way of doing the cool stuff, so everyone from doctors to nurses to paramedics utilizes a long list of accepted abbreviations to quickly complete the task.
An example of a patient care report may read as follows...
Pt. 76 y/o, w/m, c/a, c/o, s/s, n/r, c/p, 8/10, x 4 hrs, w/ r/d, n/no/v. PMH=MI x2, HTN, IDDM. Rx=ASA, HCTZ, Lantus, Novolog. KDA= MS, PCN.
The patient is a 76 year old Caucasian gentleman who is awake and talking. He has been having pains in the center of his chest for four hours. The pain does not move anywhere and he rates it an 8 on a scale of zero to ten, with zero being no pain, and ten being the worst pain he has ever felt in his life. He also is having trouble breathing and feels nauseous but has not vomited. He has had two heart attacks in the past and has high blood pressure and is an insulin dependent diabetic. He takes aspirin, Hydrochlorothiazide, Lantus and Novolog. He is allergic to Morphine and Penicillin
Medical terms and abbreviations aren’t the only variations on language that an EMS provider has to learn. Patients often have their own words and phrases to describe various ailments, diseases and medications. I can only speak to the lingo used here in the South, but I am sure that every area and region has similar, if not some of the same, colloquial terms. Being born into a rural Southern family, I used many of them myself before I learned the “correct” terminology, so it was a big help to me in translating what a patient was trying to tell me.
Here is an example of what a patient interview may sound like…
Me: Sir, what sort of medical problems have you had and are you on any medications?
Patient: Well…I have high blood, shot sugar and the grouch, an’ I sometime have skeezures cause I onest had the Smilin’ Mighty Jesus and now I got to eat them peanut butter balls.
The patient has a current medical history of hypertension, insulin dependent diabetes, and gout. He has epilepsy as a result of a past medical history of spinal meningitis and is on Phenobarbital for same.
It is important that you always speak to your patients in words and phrases that they understand. To use big, long medical terms when talking to anyone who isn’t in the medical field doesn’t make you look smart, it just makes you look like an ass. I have called out more than one new resident in the ER for doing this. Yeah, I know, I’m just the ambulance driver, but I won’t hesitate to correct a wet behind the ears intern who is trying to prove how important he is by talking over a patient’s head. We as medical professionals must find a balance between our training and the real world…an equilibrium of thoughts and ideas. We must always try to achieve…well, homeostasis.