Terminologically speaking

Dr. Tony NSA

I’ve never been one to use medical terminology ever since I learned it in school, mostly because I noticed that when I used it with patients, they didn’t know what I was talking about. And if I used it in my private life, I was afraid that I was being seen as pompous or a know-it-all. After all, why would you use a language with people who don’t understand it?

Interestingly, over the years I have found that medical terminology serves a number of purposes. It serves as a language that health professionals can use between each other. 

Medical terminology can also serve as a powerful placebo. Most patients who are concerned about their symptoms are really wanting to know why they have the symptoms that they do. They don’t know whether they’re facing something serious or something that will go away on its own. And they’re looking to the doctor to tell them.

Medical terminology can serve as a salve for that worry. If you come in to the doctor’s office and tell her that you have severe low back pain and you’re told that you have lumbago, it somehow helps to relieve the worry. Never mind that lumbago means low back pain. I know it also helps that the doctor doesn’t jump out of her seat and whisks you immediately to the operating room.

Using medical terminology can be misleading though to patients when it is used to give a reason why someone has a symptom while the term itself doesn’t actually give a reason.

For example, the word “Idiopathic” is used when the doctor doesn’t know the reason or cause. They don’t know but they don’t actually want to use those words. They’d rather make up a word that means that they have no idea.

“Iatrogenic” is used to describe any injury that is caused by a physician or medication or any mistake made in the care of a patient. This includes misdiagnoses, excising the wrong kidney because they were looking at the X-ray backwards, leaving external objects inside a person during surgery like watches and sponges, as well as side-effects from medications and adverse reactions from mixing medications. Iatrogenesis in fact has been estimated to be the number one cause of death in the western world.

And last but not least, my most favourite of them all is spontaneous remission. Some of you may have heard that term before and it’s not like the previous two words, it’s pretty much straightforward.

Why it’s my favourite though is because it takes the magic and miracle out of life in just 7 syllables. For example, Dr. Anthony Fauci was quoted as saying recently: “80% of people infected with C19 spontaneously recover”. Just like that, they recover. There’s no acknowledgement of the body’s innate capacity for healing. There’s no mention of what could help support the body to spontaneously recover (otherwise known as HEALING). Nope, it just happens. Spontaneously. I guess those with a special place in heaven spontaneously recover. Or maybe it’s because they were born holding a 4 leaf clover. Either way, it just happens:).

There’s even a book (which I have somewhere at home, I need to dig it out) called Spontaneous Remission. It’s an anthology of documented cases of people with cancer who healed from whatever cancer they had. I even came across this article here:
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3312698/.

Instead of expounding the miracle of life and how our bodies are able to heal themselves, using medical terminology is an attempt to lay claim to something that we are just bystanders of. The doctor doesn’t heal you, no matter how much training or knowledge they have. The doctor can serve to accompany the patient on their journey, like a sherpa helping a mountain climber. You heal yourself.

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