What patients say and what they really mean!

Posted on June 11, 2008. Filed under: Benign |

From the start of the consultation right up until the very last seconds, patients have a new language with definitions that are different from those used in the rest of their lives.  It is the clinicians responsibility to recognise these key phrases and translate them.  Below I have started a quick guide, please feel free to add in the comments box any additions.  As the Doctor said to the man with a lettuce up his bottom: “I am sure this is just the tip of the iceberg”…

I wouldn’t have normally come

Meaning either:

“I always come, but I like to make excuses”

“My spouse said I’d get a divorce if I didn’t get it sorted”

“I have problems with premature ejaculation” (Literal translation!)


“I don’t like to bother you!”


“I couldn’t get an appointment to see anyone else”

“I usual limit my visits to once every other day”

“I am dying”


“I don’t like taking tablets/drugs!”


“I want a quick fix and I haven’t bothered to do anything myself that might help, as I lack common sense”

“I don’t like buying tablets – I get free prescriptions!”

“I like the pain and I’ve just come here today to brag about how tough I am”


Thanks and bye, oh by the way…


“I know you’ve just spent all you consultation time looking at a tiny patch of dry skin that I pretended to be worried about, but I really have crushing chest pain/penile rash/vaginal discharge/deep psychological problems that I am now going to share with you and expect you to treat, meaning that every other patient in the waiting room is going to have to read 20 year old magazines while waiting for you to finish with me”.


“I’m sure it’s nothing serious but…”

This is slightly more tricky…it could mean…

“I’m dying aren’t I? It’s meningitis with secondary cancer and a heart attack all at the same time, how long have I got to live? Oh my god I think I’ve just had a stroke!”

However essentially when a patient says the words “I feel pretty well really” or “I feel really unwell” the reverse is invariablethe clinical true. For example:

“I feel pretty well really, I’ve just got crushing chest pain, radiating down my left arm and shortness of breath, oh and by the way I feel clammy and sick”


“I feel really unwell, I’ve got one asymptomatic spot on my hand which has been there all morning and I’m otherwise completely well….am I going to die?”

Time is also something difficult to define:

“I’ve had it ages” can mean anything from; “it started well over an hour ago” to “oooh, about 50 years”


“I’ve not had it for long can mean anything from: “oooh, it started less than 50 years ago” to “It started about an hour ago”.

In general terms understanding what the patient says is more about cross examining and pinning them to a definite answer rather than taking what they say on face value.

Fingers crossed for some more examples please…I look forward to reading them…

Make a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

3 Responses to “What patients say and what they really mean!”

RSS Feed for It shouldn’t happen in health care Comments RSS Feed

Your “literal translation” made me laugh out loud. A good way to start the day.

Loved it!!
You are soooo right!! Made me laugh

[…] Read the whole hilarious post here. […]

Where's The Comment Form?

Liked it here?
Why not try sites on the blogroll...

%d bloggers like this: