It is a well known fact that the healthcare industry does not speak English. Sure, when you’re talking to your doctor, or any practitioner, you’ll use layman’s terms, the ones we all know. Relatable, common sense terms. However, behind the scenes, healthcare has a needlessly complicated language. It’s like a strong tradition, a superstition almost. As if only the initiated can use this sacred tongue.

Typically, after any visit to a clinic or facility, you are given a sheet of paper, sometimes emailed, summarizing what your experience there was. It’s usually called an After Visit Summary, or a Visit Information Sheet. Depending on your facility, if you read the summary in-depth, you might see some of this obscure language pop up.

Much of the language of healthcare is derived from ancient Greek and Latin, when the smart people of the time began to (very slowly, often incorrectly) figure out how the human body works. The Latin work for uterus is ‘hyster,’ derived from hysteria, as the Greeks thought women could be overly emotional, as they did not understand that a woman ovulating can have her hormones thrown off. How charming of them. ‘Tomy’ means to cut, or remove. Thus: hysterectomy.

Today, much of the modern healthcare lexicon is an alphanumeric code, a relatively recent development. This eases communication between different languages, and it is also a common way for clinics to communicate with insurance companies.

Perhaps the most intriguing healthcare term of all is the eponym; that is, a procedure or discovery named after the person who pioneered it. The PAP smear was invented by Georgios Papanikolaou. The cruel disease of Alzheimer’s, an illness as old as humanity, was first pathologically described by Alois Alzheimer. Crohn’s disease was first identified by Burrill Crohn.

Now, considering anatomy, that is, the parts of the human body, there are many eponymous terms that, when first read, are downright silly. Here now, is a list of the most ridiculous sounding names for parts of your body:

Purkinje fibers: These are located near the bottom of the heart, and aid in the pumping action of the heart muscle and blood. They are named after Jan Evangelista Purkyně.

Bundle of His: (Actually pronounced bundle of HISS) These are fibers in your heart that help conduct the electrical impulse that keeps the heart beating. They were discovered by Wilhem His Jr.

Islets of Langerhans: These are parts of the pancreas that aid in the metabolism of glucose. They are named after researcher Paul Langerhans.

Cowper’s glands: These aid in the transmission of male semen from point A to point B. They are named after William Cowper.  Mama Cowper must have been proud.

Pouch of Douglas: This is the pouch between the rectum and the uterus of the female body. Anatomist James Douglas took his work very seriously.

Golgi apparatus: This cellular substance aids in protein packaging. They are named for the Italian Scientist Camillo Golgi.

Loop of Henle: This handy little structure aids in the production of urine. It is named after German anatomist Freidrich Gustav Jakob Henle. Dr. Henle liked to study how we pee.

Little’s plexus: This is part of your nasal septum. It was first discovered by American surgeon James Little. I don’t know much about him, but judging by his name, he was probably 6’4″ and 280 lbs.

Crypts of Lushka: These are the mucous membranes on the inside of the gallbladder. They are named after German anatomist Dr. Hubert Von Luschka.

Zonule of Zinn: This is a suspensory ligament in the eye. They are named after Johann Gottfried Zinn.

Spiral valves of Heister These are valves in the cystic duct, connecting the gallbladder to the bile duct. They are named after German anatomist Lorenz Heister.

Wormian Bones: These are structural bones in the skull. They are named after Ole Worm, professor of anatomy at Copenhagen. Cool name.

Artemis Schlong: After centuries of debate, a name was finally settled on the name of the male reproductive organ in 1692, by Costa Rican anesthesiologist Artemis Schlong.

All human beings, gender dependent, have within them these anatomical parts with unusual and odd sounding names. There are of course, many more. And still… more to be discovered.

Wash your hands!

Cute Animal Stories and Physiology

cat nursing puppies

The link above is a very cutesy video, but it had me reaching for my textbook.

According to this video, the mother cat had recently lost her kindle (I love collective nouns) and was, quite naturally, profoundly depressed. This animal foster family took the cat in, and found the cat to be needy, sad and distressed. It was only after the introduction of a litter of puppies that had lost their mother (what is this, a Disney movie?) that the cat came around.

There is an endocrine gland (that means it makes hormones) in the middle of your brain called the pituitary gland, answering to your CNS by way of the hypothalamus, a bridge between the CNS and the endocrine system. The pituitary gland is often called the master gland, because it does a lot of stuff, probably gets paid more. One of the hormones it secretes is called oxytocin. In mammalian females, oxytocin plays a major role in commanding the body for pregnancy, birth, and nursing. However, in both genders, oxytocin, by the very nature of its primary function, also engenders feelings of attachment, belonging, and intimacy. This cat was flooded with oxytocin, was depressed, and needed attention. When the puppies were introduced, the oxytocin returned to its primary role, and the cat became a surrogate mother. At this time, the cat’s pituitary gland produced another hormone called prolactin, and enabled the animal to nurse the puppies.

I’m not trying to reduce the powerful emotions this cat felt, emotions that would also easily occur in a human being, by explaining it away in technical terms. I’m not trying to take the ‘awww’ out of it. Just two things:

1: It is profoundly interesting that external, emotional events have a direct, physiological impact on how your body functions. Your emotions are very real, can be very strong, and, if you need proof, take a look inside and see the physiological process. If someone tells you to suck it up, if someone shames you for mental illness, if someone tells you to stop feeling a certain way, then they are A) ignorant of how the body works, and B) an asshole. “It’s all in your head!” Well, of course. Everything is. But that’s ontology, for another time.

2: It’s also profoundly interesting that we’re looking at two completely different species here. That’s incredible. That speaks to the strength of the survival instinct, but that’s for another time.

Well, I’m procrastinating again. Gotta hit the books. Wash your hands!