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Behind Closed Doors
Divided By a Common Knowledge
Paula Watkins
Publish Date: January 18, 2008   |  Tags:   Opinion

Life is never dull for a travel nurse. Each assignment brings new places to see, new people to meet and new experiences waiting to happen. As healthcare professionals in a surgical environment, we've pretty much been trained and conditioned to think and act alike. However, verbal communication is another story, especially if you're traveling outside of your native region.

For the past four months, this Arkansas nurse has had the pleasure of working with and making friends with some very nice folks in a Connecticut OR. It seems strange that we're all Americans, yet we sometimes have a hard time understanding the same language. But we've all agreed that there's definitely a difference in not only the way we speak the English language but also in how we understand it.

I didn't think too much about these differences until one very savvy co-worker began acting as an interpreter between me and the surgeons and staff with whom I worked. Affectionately, I'm offering up a short course on the language barriers we've overcome in my time north of the Mason-Dixon Line.

  • Y'all. Despite what you may have heard, this is not pronounced "you all." "Y'all" could refer to one of you, or it could mean a whole mess of you (as I would imagine "youse guys" does up North).
  • Sir and Ma'am. These are terms of respect that were taught to children in the home as well as in school when I was a child. You didn't dare respond with a simple yes or no — or worse, with yeah or uh-uh — when answering your elders. I still respond with sir or ma'am to surgeons regardless of their age. Sometimes my tone may sound a little sarcastic, but I can assure you, it's sarcasm with respect.
  • Cod. I spent 15 minutes trying to figure out why a very sweet co-worker thought it would be a good idea for me to send a fish to a friend back home for her birthday. When she gave up explaining and told me just to go to "Hall Mock," it finally dawned on me that she drops her R's when she speaks in her Eastern New England accent.
  • Fixin' to. Others may be "planning on," others are "gonna." I'm fixing the situation to make it more conducive to do whatever it is I need to do to get the job done.
  • Johnny Coat. You know, in the South we call the thin, drafty and revealing garment that ties in the back a "hospital gown," or just "a gown."
  • Cat Fit. Short for "conniption fit." When I see one of those, I know immediately what's going on. One of my Connecticut co-workers not only didn't know what a "cat fit" was, she didn't seem too sure what a "conniption" was, either. I just told her to imagine a cat all fuzzed up and spitting at you. There you have a perfect example of a display of displeasure.
  • Y'all come back now, ya hear? Not everyone in the South says this, in spite of what "The Beverly Hillbillies" may have led you to believe. Sometimes we say, "Be careful and have a safe trip." That's because sometimes we don't want them to come back. Thankfully, when my contract ended, they served up a cake decorated with the words, "Y'all come back now, ya hear?" That was one time I didn't need a translation: now they were speaking my language. My response? I will!