13 Gross Sounding Medical Terms


The human body is super disgusting, so it’s only natural that the words we use to describe it would make you want to throw up in your mouth.

Here’s a list of emesis-inducing medical terms you are likely to hear, several times a day, on any hospital unit on the planet.

13. Pannus

Oh, the pannus. Let’s start with the pannus, shall we?

Known to non-medical professionals as a FUPA or a GUNT, the pannus is an area of adipose tissue that grows between the belly and the pelvis. Typically associated with obese women, the pannus is truly one of America’s great anatomical innovations. It looks, and feels, like a giant, sweaty orange peel. In morbidly obese patients, it can weigh upwards of one hundred pounds (all figures estimated).

According to this one Wikipedia page I looked at for five seconds, it seems we have all been using the word “pannus” incorrectly. (Technically, it refers to inflamed joint tissue, or to granulated tissue that appears over the cornea of hypoxic patients … but whatever.)

You haven’t lived until you’ve called three or four fellow nurses into the room during a bedbath, only to sucker them into “holding up the pannus.” (Bonus points if there’s skin cheese, or fungus, under there.)

(Related: Fat flap; FUPA; GUNT; “pendulous breasts”)

12. Pulmonary toilet

My personal favorite item on this list. Makes me think of a little porcelain toilet, just hanging out in the lower lung fields, that we have to go in and unclog.

As far as I know or can tell, a pulmonary toilet is really just chest percussion and deep breathing … but it’s so much more fun, and horrifying, to say: “This patient might benefit from aggressive pulmonary toileting.”

Whenever the residents round on my patient with ARDS, and one of them suggests a pulmonary toilet, I literally get giddy with excitement. I’m like: “Oooh, I’ll get the Draino! Let’s call Roto-Rooter!”

In related news, I am a 36-year-old man with an extensive puppet collection.

11. Sputum

In the English language, there is a term for words that sound like what they are: onomatopoeia. Words like: “boom,” “beep,” “honk,” “meow” … and “sputum.”

Sputum is a lovely concoction of infected saliva and mucus that accumulates in the upper airways of vented or pneumonic patients. Sputum sounds a lot like spew — which is exactly what patients with excessive sputum tend to do: spew it at you. (Usually when you’re leaning over their bed to check for a pupillary response.)

(Related: Mucus; mucoid; phlegm; pink frothy SPUTUM)

10. Fistula

Could be anything from a surgically-created dialysis access port … to an area of communication between the intestine and the pelvic cavity. (This is bad.)

When I think of a fistula, I imagine an unnaturally large, hollowed-out space between two organs, that you can literally stick your fist into. I think of FISTING. (In the Age of Porn, this is perhaps unavoidable.)

(Related: Spit fistula; perianal fistula; matured fistula)

9. Fundus

Want to make a male nurse run screaming for the hills? Threaten to float him to L&D. If he’s anything like me, he still has nursing-school nightmares of that time he was ordered to “massage the fundus” of an exsanguinating pregnant woman. Not what I signed up for!

(Related: Rubra lochia; radical vulvectomy)

8. Purulent

Like a fine red wine with a rare steak, the word “purulent” is often paired with the word “drainage.”

Purulent drainage … those two words go together like peanut butter and jelly, don’t they?

The only way to tell if that substance leeching out of your patient’s venous ulcer is purulent … is to dip a swab in it and smell it. (You will be omitting this charming feature of your job from dinner conversations with future blind dates.)

(Related: Pus; pus-like; pustule; oozing wound; “tenacious secretions”)

7. Necrotizing fasciitis

We’re on a kind of friendly, first-name basis with NECK FASH on my unit.

A flesh-eating disease caused by MRSA (or, less commonly, Vibrio vulnificus), NECK FASH will fuck up your day … one hundred percent of the time.

It’s like something out of a David Cronenberg film.

People tend to think of NECK FASH as something that happens with about the same regularity as a meteor hitting a major city; a rare, exotic disease, like Ebola.

I am here to disabuse you of that notion. NECK FASH is surprisingly common. We see it all the time in the ICU. You probably have it right now!

Necrotizing fasciitis is its own unique thing; but, during shift report, I tend to call any flesh-eroding condition NECK FASH … mostly just because I like saying: NECK FASH.

Really rolls off the tongue.

6. Prolapse

Of the rectal variety is always the best … but technically, any organ that becomes displaced or dislodged can be said to be prolapsed. Uterus, anus, spinal disc, umbilical cord, abdominal wall, the tricuspid valve of the heart … Dealer’s choice, y’all!

5. Steatorrhea

When God made people from tree bark or whatever, some 6,000 years ago, He looked down upon His creation and said: “Verily, their diarrhea is right nasty, but now and then, I shall put floating pieces of translucent, undigested fat in that mess, to spice things up for the nurses.”

It’s in the Bible, look it up.

4. Sinus tract

We’re not talking about nasal passages, here.

When a pressure ulcer goes unmanaged for too long, it develops sinus tracts — little networks of hollowed-out flesh teeming with bacteria, dead skin cells, and … you guessed it … our old friend purulent drainage.

Bacteria literally burrows through the wound, forming long passageways, or tunnels, for the organism to spread to healthy tissue, like a microscopic ant farm, or some shit.

The moral of this story is: turn your patients.

(Related: Tunneling; undermining; sloughing; soft eschar; festering bedsore)

3. Coccyx

And where do most of those nasty pressure ulcers appear? On the coccyx, of course!

This word just looks dirty. All those deviant, extraneous c‘s … hard c‘s and soft c‘s … big and small c‘s … You don’t need all those c‘s!

And the y and the x at the end, what the fuck is that. What is this, trigonometry? Are we doing math now?

The only vowel in the whole damn word is the O … and even it conjures a dirty image of a gaping, wide-open hole. Quite apt, if you ask me.

Coccyx is a foul, filthy little word … and its spiritual counterpart — sacrum — ain’t much better.

(Related: Bony prominence; symphysis pubis; sacrococcygeal cartilage)

2. Smegma

A word that is too gross for me to even say out loud, I include smegma on this list only out of a kind of journalistic obligation. (Personally, I prefer the decidedly non-medical, and somehow less vulgar-sounding: dick cheese.)

(Related: Foreskin; frenulum; fromunda; preputial folds; meatus)

1. Moist

The granddaddy of all gross words. A word so gross they did a study on it.

I polled my coworkers for items to include on this list — I’m very scientific about my nonsense — and the overwhelming majority of them said “moist,” right off the bat. They didn’t even have to think about it. That is some powerful grossness.

Whether you’re a brain surgeon or a construction worker, a bleeding-heart liberal or a Donald Trump supporter, a lover of horror movies or of romantic comedies — or just a person with two ears and an intact gag reflex — the word “moist” seems to bring us all together in shared revulsion. It is the Great Linguistic Unifier. Unless we’re talking about a batch of double-fudge brownies, or a slice of pistachio pudding cake, I think I can speak for all of humanity when I say: “Moist” can get fucked sideways.

(Related: Clammy skin, mucous membrane; lymphedema; WEEPING)

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