The Old Coot explains medical ‘procedures’

This article (now modified) was originally published in April 2004. I was startled at the time; Doug Worthing came up to me and said, “I liked your article on procedures. I just underwent several and it really hit home.” That was the first time I knew that someone actually read one of my old coot rants. We’ve both had many “procedures” since then, but nothing has changed. So, here it is again.  

I underwent a medical “procedure” at the hospital. A procedure is 3rd on the list of invasive things they do to you in the hospital: #1 is major surgery, #2 is minor surgery. Major surgery is any operation on you; minor surgery is what they do to somebody else. A “procedure” is a close relative of major and minor surgery. It’s about as uncomfortable and painful, but insurance companies and HMO’s won’t pay to have you knocked out for it. You have to take it on the chin. The word “procedure” is used so you won’t be afraid, so you’ll show up. 

When I was a kid my mother dragged me kicking and screaming to the doctor to have my eardrum punctured to ease the pain of an earache. I had it done so often that I knew what was coming the minute we pulled up to Doctor Bowen’s office on Oak Street in Binghamton. They didn’t call it an eardrum “procedure” in those days; they told it like it was, “We’re going to puncture your ear drum.” The AMA has gotten a lot smarter since then; the PR committee settled on using the word “procedure” for the painful, uncomfortable things they do to us; it was a stroke of pure genius. I just wonder why the medical profession is the only group to do so. 

Big corporations should use it when they reduce their work force. Who would suspect anything bad when called to the boss’s office for a “paycheck procedure”? The guy who installed a new roof on my house could have softened the blow; if after inspecting my roof, he said I needed a “shingle procedure” instead of a complete tear down and replacement. Even our local meteorologist would enhance his image if he’d just tell us to expect a “precipitation procedure” rather than 20 inches of snow. 

The term can be used in endless ways. Your spouse’s lawyer will say you are about to undergo an unhooking procedure, not a divorce. When you reach for your wallet and discover it’s empty after a day at the mall with the kids, you can say you underwent a wallet procedure, not that you’re broke. And, when you get robbed at gunpoint, you can take solace that you just underwent a sudden money transfer procedure, not armed robbery.  

The medical profession has always been out in front with the clever use of language. They’ve used Latin for centuries to describe the components of a human body, so we will think they are smarter than us, and so we won’t know what they are about to do to us. They claim it’s because Roman physicians were the first to dissect and then name the components that make up human anatomy and thus the various bones and body mechanisms were given Latin Names. I don’t buy it; I think the AMA stuck with Latin to keep us out of the loop, to keep what their members are doing a secret. They did the same thing with the metric system. Even though our country measures things in pounds, ounces, quarts, gallons, feet and inches our physicians discuss things in grams, cc’s and centimeters. It’s why it takes so long to get a medical degree, four years to learn the medical stuff and four years to learn Latin and the metric system. But, their best idea ever came when they adopted the term, procedure. Have you had one lately. 

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