Top 10 patient translations

What the patient really means when they use one of these common phrases

Updated April 24, 2015

My partner, a rookie EMT, is convinced he experienced an alien abduction the other day.

I'm talking about the kind where aliens beam up your patient and replace him with an exact duplicate with an entirely different chief complaint and medical history — the kind of abduction that usually occurs right after you have called to report to the hospital.

He was understandably flummoxed when the patient gave the triage nurse radically different answers than she had given my partner not five minutes before. I've told him to beware of these alien abductions. If you're not careful enough to ask history questions multiple times, they can make you look rather silly.

But I had listened to the patient while he interviewed her, and I knew that what my partner experienced wasn't so much an alien abduction as it was a misinterpretation of what the patient said. My partner, an EMT for only six months, doesn't realize that people rarely say what they actually mean. He's never been married, either, and thus hasn't learned that when your wife hisses, "I'm fine," things are most definitely not okay.

So, for my rookie partner and any other EMT who hasn't yet developed a patient translator as finely nuanced as mine, I give you the Top Ten Patient Translations:


"Medical problems? Nah, I'm generally healthy."

Except for my hypertension, coronary artery disease, asthma, hypothyroidism, diabetes, demonic possession, bipolar disorder, and cooties. But I have medicine for all that stuff.


"I take my medicine just as the doctor prescribed it!"

I take my potassium supplements daily, but I only take my Lasix when my feet start to resemble sausages. And I still don't know why I'm having all this muscle weakness!


Between nodding off and snoring peacefully: "I'm in so much pain that I don't think I can make it to the stretcher by myself."

I've taken a month's supply of Soma, Lortab and Xanax in the last week, and I want to go to the ER to get my prescriptions refilled.


"I've already called my doctor. He's going to meet us at the ER."

I am a hypochondriac and my doctor, to his everlasting regret, doesn't have caller ID.


"I feel silly for calling y'all."

I'm 85 years old and I took a tumble while checking the mail, and my family browbeat me into calling 911. I mean, it's like they've never seen a bone poking through the skin before!


"This stretcher is uncomfortable! Why do you keep it so cold in the ambulance? Ow! Is this your first time to start an IV?! Does your partner normally drive so rough? I'm going to complain to your supervisor!"

There is absolutely nothing wrong with me that a good swift kick in the rear won't fix.


"He must have just coded!"

The ventilation system is really good here at Decubitus Manor. The smell of decay never even reaches the nurse's station!


"You're so much nicer than the crew that picked me up last week! What are your names again?"

I have early onset Alzheimer's, and I’m probably going to mix up the names so that you're the one I complain about, and the crew from hell will get all my praise.


"I'm a hard stick and my veins roll."

A phlebotomist gave me a bruise 15 years ago, and I'm going to say nasty things about you to your supervisor if you stick me more than once.


"So there I was, sitting there on the stoop, reading the Bible and drinking a wholesome glass of milk, when all of a sudden and for no reason, Sumdood just jumped me!"

I was dealing crack on Sumdood's corner, while wearing enemy gang colors, groping his girlfriend's boobs, and whizzing all over his brand new spinner rims. And the last thing I said before my epic butt-kicking was, "Yo, you got a problem wid dat, homey?"

Got any patient translations of your own? Chime in with your comments!

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