Medical terminology has long been a source of entertainment for many ambulance crews. There were the smart dispatchers who would try to use fancy medical words when they sent jobs to the crews, but the majority of patients had no idea what they meant. They did, however, brighten up the crews’ days. Whether laughing at the dispatcher or finding mirth in the words themselves, the effect was usually good.
“Ah yes Stan. You appear to be suffering from an acute case of epistaxis” (aka a nosebleed). It was ok to joke with the regulars, building a rapport with them was like a form of reassurance, and reassurance was one of the best tools we had. But medical terminology also made the mundane jobs more bearable, like the D&Is (Drunk & Incapable). We were often called to the results of drunken brawls and, assisted by the police, we had to decide whether or not the drunken individuals actually required transfer to A&E, or if they could safely be sent on their way. On initial examination, were the brawlers relatively compos mentis, we’d sometimes do some “unorthodox” tests. Nothing nasty or horrible, just silly things, like the straight line walk, the finger to nose test (often resulting in a poked eye!), and the medical terminology test – “I’m afraid you seem to be suffering from a bilateral, periorbital ecchymoses!”. This either resulted in a look of confusion, or a sudden look of horror. “Is that bad? Am I going to die?!” If we provoked the latter we would be quick to explain.
At this point I should probably clarify – we would never encourage fear in a patient, and if extracting a small bit of fun at the patients’ expense would never be taken beyond a simple laugh.
A periorbital ecchymoses means nothing more than a black eye. Bilateral meaning both eyes.
Fun with medical terminology was not restricted to the patients. We sometimes played Word(s) of the Day – a medical word, or expression, would be chosen and the challenge was to use said term in a meaningful patient handover to the staff member at A&E. There will never be a greater triumph in this game than my ex-colleague who managed to seamlessly fit the term “fecal smudging” into their handover. The patient was elderly, a queried hip fracture, and had been lying on the floor of their house for some time. The situation was perfect, the stage was set. On our arrival at A&E the word was spread around crews there, and a few select nurses. Like excited children we sneaked around the other side of the receiving area to watch. The jammy sod got a student nurse! My partner began their handover and the student nurse stood, listening intently and nodding their head in an almost knowledgeable fashion. Then it came – “………..significant fecal smudging up the patient’s back……….”.
My partner continued as if everything was normal, the student nurse continued nodding. That moment cost me coffees for a week! It was never forgotten. Other Words of the Day ranged from” bogey” to “butt plug”. The latter was involved in a failed attempt. Thankfully I was not there to see it!
None of the above involved any harm to anyone, but they were part of the mechanism that helped many ambulance crews cope with the more mundane parts of the job. In some cases they even helped ease the stresses of other jobs.
There has been much criticism of ambulance crews seen laughing on the way to jobs. Never underestimate the professionalism of ambulance crews at a job. But also, never query their coping mechanisms, unless you are willing to get out there and prove you could cope better with what they have to deal with!