, Gloucester, MA

February 8, 2013

On the Mend: A little health-care humor

On the Mend
Joe DiVincenzo

---- — Health care providers are much like workers in any other field. We enjoy a good laugh every now and then — and a good portion of these laughs originate from real-life situations.

That’s right — most clinicians can find at least a small measure of comedy in almost any circumstance. It’s how we survive the more challenging days and difficult cases. Psychologists label this kind of fun as ‘asylum humor’ and consider it to be normal and healthy behavior — quite useful for keeping the mood light during dire times. After all, which would you prefer — a happy or a grumpy nurse?

From dark humor to light humor and everything in between, jokes certainly have their place in medical settings. So here’s a new list of medical phrases to listen for — and hopefully they aren’t being applied to you.

Acute lead poisoning is a synonym for gunshot wound. The joke, of course, being that gunshots are instantaneous and bullets are made of lead.

Acute gravity attacks usually happen to intoxicated individuals. Along similar lines, sometimes the ground jumps up and bites them — sometimes called concrete poisoning — it’s a dangerous world out there.

An albatross refers to a chronically ill and usually non-compliant patient that wears on the nerves of their clinician. Like the ancient mariner wearing the albatross, the patient typically stays with the practitioner until one of them expires.

Hopefully your doctor isn’t planning a celestial discharge for you — it means he thinks you’re going to die. Don’t be fooled by the term celestial transfer either — the outcome isn’t much better.

I plan to be a coffin dodger, otherwise known as a person who survives against all odds or lives to be very, very old. So far, so good.

Circling the drain refers to a patient whose death is imminent and nothing can be done to arrest the process.

Gone on arrival occurs when medical, fire and police personnel arrive on the scene of a bad motor vehicle accident only to find that there is no victim. Usually this person has performed a drunkectomy — they’ve separated themselves from the car and escaped to the hospital on foot.

A positive hand-bag sign typically refers to an elderly and confused woman, lying in bed clutching a handbag as if she were about to go someplace important. Note that she’s probably wearing an open-backed Johnny gown and likely doesn’t have pants on — not exactly red-carpet material.

An incarcaphobic is a person who prefers going to a hospital as opposed to jail. They’re usually quick to flee the scene of an accident or a fight in hopes of avoiding the big house.

If you’ve made the cover of the Journal of Anecdotal Medicine, it probably means that the circumstances of your medical quandary have extended beyond the ears of your clinician. The probability of this occurring is much lower if the story isn’t interesting or funny, for your information.

If you hear hospital workers counting Os and Qs, they’re referring to patients who have fallen asleep. Os are open mouths and Qs are open mouths with a tongue hanging out. Usually, a Q is worth twice as much as an O, if you’re keeping score.

Gloucester resident Joe DiVincenzo is a physical therapist and clinical specialist in manual therapy. He writes “On the Mend” weekly. Questions may be submitted by email to