By Dr. Tony Johnson
July 8, 2011
I love medical words. Seriously, where other than the world of medicine do you get use words like siphonapterosis, cholecystoduodenostomy, or pheochromocytoma? They just roll off the tongue, and I get the same sensation saying them I as I do when I eat fine European chocolate. Sort of a lusty, tongue-coating warmth.
As fun as they are to say, the lust for them has to exist for the recipient as much as it does for the speaker. If I am talking to a fellow doctor, a long medicalese w0rd can convey paragraphs worth of information in a just a few (admittedly unwieldy) syllables.Â Even though they are long and seemingly complex words, if every one involved digs their meaning, they become a sort of shorthand and we can get down to the healing portion of the work at hand. Everyone is on the same level, and information transfer from one brain to the next is smooth.
If the person listening is a non-doctor, though, as better than 99% of the world is, these wonderful words that pack so much meaning into just a few letters strung together work the opposite magic. The listener ends up confused, ill-informed and tunes out the speaker.Â The transfer of information from one brain to the next comes to a screeching halt. Not only is the information not transferred, future attempts at communication falter because the listener no longer trusts the speaker and stops caring what they have to say because they know they won’t understand it.
We have seven brand new, fresh-out-of-the-package doctors at Purdue right now. They constitute our new class of interns. They have just spent four years filling their Broca’s area with these lusty European chocolate words, and they are itchin’ to use them. They have rightly earned the privilege of acting like a doctor, and, along with the stethoscope and lab coat, the lingo is part of the costume that we wear as we play doctor.
This, on occasion, causes problems.
We live and die by clients. They bring the animals in for us to treat, they pay the bills that keep the lights on, and they need to be an active and informed part of the medical decision making. But, they are usually neurotypicals and their mother tongue is usually Normalese. If they are flummoxed by a barrage of medicalese and don’t know what is going on, the process gets that much harder. The interns all go through the same arc of learning. They confuse the first couple dozen owners with their ginormous medical lexicon, suffer through the same quizzical stares and then, gradually, learn to speak civilian.
I did the same thing. I went through the same process. I don’t hit the mark all the time (due to my love of big words, sometimes I let some slip through) but I think I have developed a pretty good ability to talk to pet owners on their level and tone down the jargon. I think it helps people see that I am human, too, (for the most part) and I can explain things without resorting to buzzwords.
What has been your experience? Have you had conversations with your MD or veterinarian that left you wondering what is going on? Have you nodded through these, thinking ‘what the hell is he talking about?’ Or, have you stopped them and said ‘what does that mean?’Â Do they communicate clearly so you can understand what is going on, and what the options are, or do they leave you with a head full of questions and ears ringing?