Behind Closed Doors


Cutting Wit

In the medical field, there are a lot of details to remember and a lot of rules to commit to memory. That's probably why our professions have historically relied on so many mnemonic devices, such as acronyms or rhyming ditties — to help us stay on top of them all.

In OR nursing, for instance, it's a well-known fact that any question we have regarding the sterility of supplies or instruments is quickly settled by "If in doubt, throw it out." And what healthcare provider can forget "On Old Olympus's Towering Top, A Finn And German Viewed Some Hops," recited in school to remember the 12 cranial nerves? There's kind of a twisted poetry to it.

I asked one of my favorite surgeons here in Connecticut if his med school education had included word games or songs to help with the recall. He began to spout them off faster than I could write them down.

By the end of the day, I had a cast of surgeons, nurses, techs and anesthesia providers offering up the catchphrases they'd learned as students, residents and longtime surgical personnel. Besides the memory devices, though, the bits of healthcare wisdom that had been passed down from person to person over the years were even more entertaining in their skewed depiction of our workplace. They might even be suitable for framed needlepoints on OR walls.

  • "If the face is red, raise the head. If the face is pale, raise the tail."
  • "A chance to cut is a chance to cure."
  • "Nothing heals like cold, hard steel." (Also, "For if it's real, the solution's steel.")
  • "Caffeine: the gift of life."
  • "You need the drugs to kill the bugs."
  • "GYN is the only specialty that can replace a uterus, pound for pound, with cat gut chromic."
  • "An intern, like a flea, is the last thing to leave a dying carcass."
  • "A surgeon might be right or wrong, but is never in doubt."
  • "Fem pop? Chop, chop, chop." (Vascular surgery made simple.)
  • "Orthopedists think the heart is only there to pump cefazolin to the bone."
  • "In orthopedics, it's not significant bleeding unless you can hear it drip."
  • "For a lap cholecystectomy, use three clips. One for the patient, one for the surgeon and one for the lawyer."
  • "A male cystoscopy involves a fiber optic with the same thing on both ends."
  • "Fat, fair, forty and female." (The criteria that generally indicate you'll be doing a cholecystectomy on the Saturday when you're on call.)
  • "You can't make chicken salad out of chicken caca."
  • "Things are just more annoying to do when you're sterile instead of virile."
  • "Never trust anything that bleeds for seven days and lives." (I'm sure a grizzled old general surgeon coined this phrase.)
  • "If it has tires or testes, it's bound to be trouble." (That grizzled old surgeon's nurse probably originated this one.)
  • "All bleeding stops...eventually."

Read Ms. Watkins' work at

Related Articles

September 28, 2023

There’s a significant problem in many operating rooms across the United States: Electrosurgical devices can cause significant patient burns and life-threatening fires...

September 27, 2023

At the beginning of 2021, only two U.S. states had enacted legislation mandating the use of smoke evacuation systems in every OR for every smoke-producing procedure....

Be Fundamentally Sound to Prevent Infections

One need look no further than the emerging threat from Candida auris (C. auris), a fungus that is highly resistant to drugs designed to kill it, to realize the importance...