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Jargon: Are You Guilty?

The Nuances of Jargon


It can be a great shorthand way to communicate with your colleagues or it can create an opportunity for stress and anxiety if used with a "civilian" or a patient who isn't familiar with the terminology or its intent. Those who come to cardiopulmonary rehab for help and support following major or life-threatening cardiac events are especially vulnerable to misunderstandings—think about this true story the next time you use medical jargon within earshot of a patient.

(The names in this story have been omitted to protect the oblivious.)

I had a root canal appointment last week. I am not the best dental patient and my anxiety level regarding this procedure was dangerously high. My appointment was scheduled for mid-day, which meant I was driving to the dentist from my office. I lost track of time and realized I was going to be 20 minutes late for a two-hour appointment. My anxiety level was now through the roof (the sunroof in my car comes in handy sometimes!). I called the office and apologized profusely; they said just to get there as soon as I could, which I did. Entering the office, I greeted the receptionist with my apologies and she took me immediately back to the procedure room. There, my very calm dentist and his lovely assistant were waiting for me. They bibbed me up, put the chair back and had the tray of instruments ready to go. Before they filled my mouth with cotton and the rubber block, I expressed my regret for my tardiness, again. My dentist, who is very nice but speaks in a monotone replied, "Don’t worry. We’ll get even."

He then took the very large syringe and plunged it into my gum. In my head, all I heard was, "WE’LL GET EVEN." As if they were planning something to pay me back for being late. My mind raced—would they use less anesthetic? Or go little longer than needed with the drill? Or maybe use a dull needle?"

Who says that? My mouth was full and I could not ask what they meant, so I just suffered in silence and let my imagination run wild. Forty-five minutes later he said they would give me a chance to rest and would be back in a few minutes to finish up. As soon as they took the cotton out of my mouth, I reiterated how badly I felt about being late.  He calmly responded, "Like I said, don’t worry. We’ll get even." Again with the getting even business. They left the room. My mouth was numb and nothing out of the ordinary had happened—yet.

A few minutes later, the team returned and quickly went to town with the drills and the impressions in my mouth. Another 45 minutes went by and he announced that the work was complete—"It’s a beautiful root canal," he said—and that it was now 2:00pm. And, as he said, they got even.


He meant they got a late start but were now on track with the timing on the schedule. They got "even."

I am sure everyone in this dental office uses this shorthand or jargon regarding patient appointments and procedures. Some things take longer than others, some go more quickly. They know how to make it work out and they know how to get even with the schedule. Unfortunately, no one told me, their anxious patient, that the phrase meant something different in their world.

When you are chatting with or around patients—before, during or after their rehab—think about the words you use among your colleagues and how those words could have an entirely different meaning to an anxious patient, particularly one new to the world of cardiac rehab and its jargon. As professionals who work so diligently to support and inspire patients, it’s important to remember that one word, one phrase, one tone of voice can make all the difference in filling them with confidence...or intensifying their fears. Make sure your years of experience don't numb you to the INexperience of those stepping on a treadmill for the first time.



Breeda Miller is a Caregiver Champion and professional speaker who works with groups looking for creative ways to care for the caregivers. Reach her at or check her out at


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