The Strange Language of Nurses

We speak a funny pidgin language as nurses.  It’s a mix of English, Latin, slang and the occasional cusre thrown in for emphasis.  It was driven home to me by my preceptee the other night.

“So when they arrive on the floor,” I said, “we need to check their ‘lytes, hook ’em up to the monitor and start implementing the docs orders.” as I explained what we do for cardioversions on the floor.  I looked up and noticed a quizzical look on her face.  “Question?”

“Yeah, never mind,” she said sheepishly.  “I was thinking to myself for a second there, ‘why would we be checking the lights in the room…’ and then I realized what you had actually said – electrolytes!”

I used to notice it more when I was telling my wife about my night.  I had to stop nearly every other minute to explain what I really meant.  Now, as she has learned the strange language, she can understand what I’m saying.  But still it is odd.  A couple of examples:

It’s not the Intensive Care Unit/ICU, it’s, “the Unit.”

It’s not the ER (ED if you’re WhiteCoat), as in, “What’s in the ER?”  It’s “downstairs.”  As in, “You got anything for us downsatirs?” as I’m talking to the House Supervisor as charge.

And then when you throw in the myriad abbreviations and acronyms it gets even more confusing.  I had a patient awhile ago who’s history was thus: CAD, CHF, HTN, DM, pHTN, OSA, COPD and left hip FX.  Meaning?  Besides having a busted hip they had coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, hypertension, diabetes mellitus, pulmonary hypertension, obstructive sleep apnea and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

It flows with a fluiditiy at times where small things speak volumes, if only you know the language.


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