The Secret Code Words Your Doctor Is Using, And What They Really Mean

Doctors and other health care professionals use a lot of jargon. They’ve also created acronyms and other terms to talk about you without you figuring out what they’re really saying. Some medical situations and conditions are so common they have their own “code names.” And you no longer have to wonder what they mean.

Here are the top secret code words doctors and other hospital staff might use in your presence — even when they’re trying to hide the fact that you’re driving them crazy.

1. Social injury of the rectum

Doctors rushing with patient

This is less uncommon than you’d think. | Wavebreakmedia/iStock/Getty Images

It’s not uncommon for patients to show up in the emergency room with one of these. What does it mean, exactly? Nothing too complicated — some patients simply insert foreign objects up their rear ends and need to have them surgically removed.

Next: New moms aren’t always the easiest patients.

2. Whiney primey

Surgeons in hospital corridor

This is common in first time moms. | Tom Merton/Getty Images

First-time motherhood is understandably anxiety-inducing. But when an anxious mom-to-be repeatedly makes an appearance at a hospital thinking she’s in labor when she isn’t, she earns herself this name.

Next: These patients aren’t zombies, but they might as well be.

3. FTDs

Medical Team Standing Outside Hospital

Nurses | monkeybusinessimages

Doctors apply this term to patients — most often elderly patients — who seem to continue living long after they shouldn’t be. FTD stands for “failure to die.” Sometimes these patients also earn the title of “walker” — a Walking Dead reference.

Next: You don’t collect any rewards for being one of these.

4. Frequent flier

Nurse smiling at Patient

Woman in a hospital | Monkeybusinessimages/iStock/Getty Images

A “frequent flier” shows up repeatedly in an emergency room department, even if they don’t have serious health problems. Usually, these patients lack any other means of receiving — and paying for — the health care they require.

Next: It’s a nice way of stating the obvious.

5. A negative wallet biopsy

Doctor and patient

You still have to pay for your treatment. | Gpointstudio/iStock/Getty Images

Patients who don’t have insurance coverage or who can’t otherwise pay for the care they require have a “negative wallet biopsy.”

Next: This isn’t a real Latin term, is it?

6. Dyscopia

Doctor and Patient lying on bed

Doctor with a patient | Jacoblund/iStock/Getty Images

Everyone reacts to bad news differently, but some simply can’t cope with reality. Patients suffering from “dyscopia” may be experiencing “failure to cope” when they’re not emotionally handling a diagnosis or situation well.

Next: This sounds a lot more “medical” than it actually is.

7. Horrendoma

Doctor examining senior man

Doctor with a patient | Ridofranz/iStock/Getty Images

A “horrendoma” generally describes a medical case that’s extremely complicated, or a condition has left a patient in particularly bad shape. The suffix -oma refers to a tumor. But technically, these patients can have conditions other than “horrendous tumors.”

Next: Hopefully you haven’t heard this one.


Nurse holding an X ray film

This happens to the elderly | Thomasandreas/Getty Images

You definitely don’t want a group of doctors and nurses to classify you as a GOMER — a “grand old man of the emergency room.” These patients often visit their local emergency room departments with complicated conditions hospital staff can’t cure. They’re often elderly.

Next: This is a common mistake — common enough to get its own nickname, anyway.

9. Zebra

doctor consulting with patient

Keep it straight and simple. | Psphotograph/Getty Images

More experienced doctors often tell students or doctors-in-training not to look for “zebras.” A zebra appears when a doctor makes a series of rare or overly complicated medical diagnoses where more simple, straightforward conditions are present.

Next: It’s not polite to identify a patient by their weight.

10. Beemer

Make sure you regularly talk to your doctor about your health.

This is an easy way to express if someone is overweight. | Ridofranz/ iStock / Getty Images Plus

The term “beemer” comes from body mass index, or BMI — the way doctors measure a person’s body fat based on their height and weight. A beemer typically has a high body mass index. It sounds slightly more polite than referring to someone as obese.

Next: It’s also common courtesy not to mention exactly how much someone weighs.

11. ‘Clinic units’

Visiting a doctor

Doctor and a patient talking. | Nensuria/iStock/Getty Images

Some patients are extremely sensitive to overhearing medical professionals talk about weight. Doctors sometimes use the term “clinic units” when having conversations amongst themselves. One clinic unit equals 200 pounds — some patients might weigh two or three of these.

Next: This location is off-limits to hospital patients.

12. The bunker

Woman in lab coat

This is where doctors go to unwind. | Julief514/iStock/Getty Images

A doctor won’t ever transfer a patient to “the bunker,” but you might hear a group of physicians mention it from time to time. It’s a private area in the hospital where doctors meet to unwind and discuss their caseloads.

Next: You really don’t want a doctor to “transfer” you here.

13. We’re transferring them to the ‘ECU’

Dr. Jason Greenspan (L) and emergency room nurse Junizar Manansala care for a patient in the ER

What exactly is the “ECU?” | David McNew/Getty Images

You’ve heard of the intensive care unit (ICU), or even the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). The “ECU” is much worse. Doctors might discuss sending a patient to the “eternal care unit” if they’ve done all they can to treat them, but they’re still not going to make it.

Next: A doctor can tell when you’re being over-dramatic.

14. A dying swan

Male doctor talking to patient

This can happen a lot. | Seb_ra/iStock/Getty Images

A patient who exaggerates their symptoms and acts like they’re feeling pain to get attention is known as a “dying swan.”

Next: Sometimes there’s nothing a doctor can do to save a patient.

15. Hollywood code

Medical checkup

You won’t want to hear this. | DragonImages/iStock/Getty Images

Instead of rushing to a patient who “codes,” or flatlines, sometimes doctors take their time getting to the scene. This only happens when they know they can’t save the patient, and plan on pronouncing them deceased. It’s often called a “Hollywood code.”

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