Jargon Smargon – Just Open Wide

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 your intent.  Patients who are anxious about procedures are especially vulnerable to misunderstandings – think about this story next time you use medical or office jargon within earshot of a patient.

This is a true story.  The names have been omitted to protect the thoughtless.

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 and I needed to leave my office to drive to the dentist.  I lost track of time and realized I was going to be 20 minutes late for a 2 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.  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 a very nice, and 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 hear is “WE’LL GET EVEN” – like they are planning something to pay me back for being late.  L Maybe not as much anesthetic?  Or a little longer than needed with the drill?  Or maybe a dull needle?”  Who says that?  My mouth is full and I cannot ask what they mean, so I just suffer in silence and let my imagination run wild.   45 minutes later he says they will give me a chance to rest and they will be back in a few to finish up.  As soon as they take the cotton out of my mouth I want to emphasize how badly I feel about being late.  He calmly responds, “Like I said, Don’t worry.  We’ll get even.”   Again with the getting even business. They leave the room.  My mouth is numb and nothing out of the ordinary has happened – yet.

A few minutes later, the team returns and quickly goes to town with the drills and the impression gunk in my mouth.  Another 45 minutes goes by and he announces that the work is complete, it’s a beautiful root canal and that it was now 2 pm and as he said, they got even.   Duh.  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 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 what that meant.

So, when you are chatting with patients before, during or after an appointment, think about the words you use amongst your colleagues and how those words could have an entirely different meaning to an anxious patient.  One word can make all the difference in the world.


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 [email protected] or check her out at www.BreedaMiller.com

The Caregiver CoffeeBreak – take a break before you break.  #NeedaBreeda, https://youtu.be/S_rd9h6-y_s




3 thoughts on “Jargon Smargon – Just Open Wide”

  1. That’s awful! Worse than having a procedure explained to me so I’d understand what a crown-lengthening entailed – yikes. For me, so much dental stress is based on expectation of pain or my imagination. Plus, Novocain isn’t as effective when one is scared. Wouldn’t a dentist want a calm, unworried patient? ‘Get even’ means retaliation to most people whereas ‘Don’t worry, it’s fine’ is a quite a bit more reassuring.

    1. I totally agree. What made it worse was he said it at least three times and was clueless about it. I told his assistant on the next visit and she apologized and said he is a great dentist but not a great communicator. Clearly. Thanks for posting your thoughts.

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