Medical Terminology TIps

Living with HIV is a constant learning process. Not only are we forced to learn about the disease itself, but in many instances we must learn the medical jargon that is associated with it.

For those of us who lack a formal medical education, this is often a difficult process. I remember learning during early childhood that there were usually two, and sometimes three, different names for the same part of the human body. There was the common term, which we all learned, like head, arm, etc.; there might be a "kid's" term like "pinkie," and then there was the obscure "medical term." How many of us remember having this one pulled on us in the third or fourth grade? "Psst! Hey, your epidermis is showing!" Mortified, we invariably glanced toward our genital region assuming we had left something unzipped -- only to have the other kids laugh and shout, "Epidermis means skin!"

For the majority of us (unless we actually chose to pursue a career in the medical field) our vocabulary of medical terminology stopped growing after high school health class. I recall during the first few years after my diagnosis when I was striving to learn as much as I could about the disease. I attended countless medical updates and conferences only to come out feeling more ignorant than when I went in. It seemed like things that could have been said very simply using good old-fashioned English got twisted around with medical jargon.

But before we criticize the researchers, doctors, and medical professionals in general, we must realize that these powerful, and in many cases, brilliant people to whom we entrust our lives have spent years and years in school to learn this stuff. We really can't expect them to flip back and forth between their world and ours just like that. That's why we need to meet them halfway. It wasn't until I got a grasp of the lingo the docs were using that I started to understand what they were talking about, and in so doing, I began to take charge of my own care.

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