The Language Of Medicine

stethoscope

I often forget that my brain was heavily bombarded with tens of thousands of medical terms, because I have no use for about 95% of those words in my daily life. But there is a vast ocean of multisyllabic words swirling around in the depths of my memory which would make any logophile giddy with delight. Back when I was in grade school, I had already cultivated a strange fascination for long coils of letters, a fascination which became an advantage as I was able to spell difficult words with ease, and could edit my friends’ term papers fluidly.

Once I reached my college years, I immersed myself in the world of complex vocabulary by concentrating on the sciences. I thought the terminology used in chemistry, comparative anatomy, physiology, and microbiology was absolutely beautiful, and enjoyed learning it all. Even now, when I alight upon a scientific passage or book (a recent favorite was The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean), I almost get giddy with anticipation of what I am about to read. Though I appreciate the world of medical nomenclature and can pronounce the tongue-twisting jumbles of letters, I no longer have the same passion for them I once had.

I know that one of the reasons why I no longer adore words like cholelithiasis (gallstones) is because of my deep immersion in medical language for so long. I became tired of having to memorize massive amounts of information, and I realize there are esoteric medical terms taking up valuable real estate in my brain, terms which I will likely never use because they delve into subspecialties like hematologic oncology or cardiothoracic surgery, neither of which I discuss at length. I still remember most of the mnemonics which are a necessary part of the memorization process and am thankful for their existence. But there are only a few which stuck, the ones which have utility in my current practice of medicine, such as OOOTTAFAGVAH, SEXLAB, and “Some Lovers Try Positions That They Can’t Handle” (I will leave these undefined for those of you who like puzzles).

In some ways I guess I could say that I am bilingual, since medical speak is a completely different entity from regular, everyday speech. When my medical hat is on, I shift in to medical language effortlessly, and occasionally find it challenging to replace descriptive medical vocabulary with layperson terms. Usually the blank stare from a patient or friend is enough to jar me from my speech patterns and find more general words to describe a physiological process, a disease, or a treatment course. I suppose the science nerd in me will remain very much intact as a result of the vocabulary floating around in my noggin!

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