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Cutting Remarks: Patients Say the Darndest Things
Knee cartridge, torn labrium, rotary cup and other mad malaprops.
John Kelly, IV
Publish Date: February 4, 2015   |  Tags:   Opinion

We all make mistakes, and I for one mispronounce or misuse several words daily. Yet I still find it amusing when patients confuse medical words and terminology.

  • Cartilage. I love when patients ask me if I'm going to take out the cartridge in their knee. I reply that I'll trim their cartilage or meniscus and only remove the cartridge if it's empty (kidding).
  • Labrum
  • Labrum. Often a patient will complain of a torn labrium of their hip or shoulder. I gently remind them of the proper term, labrum, and reaffirm that I am an orthopedic surgeon, not a gynecologist!
  • Rotator cuff
  • Rotator cuff. For some mysterious reason, patients often use rotary cup to describe their shoulder affliction. Rotary cup sounds more like a jet engine part than an important element of shoulder anatomy.
  • Fractured not broken. Many patients consider a fracture to be a discretely different and a much more cataclysmic event than a broken bone. For many it is indeed bad enough that something is broken, but God forbid, if it is fractured the damage incurred is of a far greater magnitude. Go figure.
  • Lyme disease. Patients often refer to this infectious process as Lime's disease. Last I checked, this tick-borne illness was named after Lyme, Conn., where it was discovered. It was not named after a Doctor Lime! Maybe patients think you contract the disease by eating spoiled limes?
  • Nerve block
  • The nerve block. I can't tell you how many times a week a patient will refer to their regional anesthetic as a nerve blocker. "Dr. Kelly, I felt great until the nerve blocker wore off" is commonplace in my practice. Nerve blocker sounds more like a machine than a single-dose anesthetic.
  • Synvisc. Patients commonly pronounce the popular hyaluronic acid preparation as Synvix. Surely this pronunciation is easier, but it does present problems to pharmacies and insurers. No wonder this product is often denied!
  • Baker cyst. This commonly found benign lesion in the posterior knee is often referred to as a Baker's cyst. No, it's not more endemic in those who make homemade bread or sell birthday cakes. Rather it was described by William Morrant Baker, a 19th Century English surgeon and anatomist. Dr. Baker had a penchant for dissection and cricket, not the kitchen.
  • Issues. Many patients will present a joint complaint and refer to their pain as an issue. "Dr. Kelly I have some real issues with my shoulder." Issues with your shoulder? Did your shoulder abuse you when you were younger? Did it neglect you in your formative years? Have you not forgiven your shoulder? Were you traumatized by your shoulder at any point?

Loud and clear, despite the poor agnostics
The good news is despite the malapropisms, I usually know exactly what my patients are trying to say. When you consider that there are thousands of medical terms, patients are doing pretty well in navigating the terminology labyrinth. Now, if you will excuse me, I must go. My wife is trying to tell me something. I have trouble hearing her because the agnostics in our den are poor.