COPD Lexicon: Hospital Terms Defined

Last updated: May 2018

So, you happen to be sitting in an emergency room. Here are some of the things you might hear or see.

These are some basic hospital terms and their definitions.

Scrubs. Comfortable, pajama-like uniforms worn by doctors, nurses, and respiratory therapists. They are usually colorful and can be used to identify those taking care of you. For instance, where I work, respiratory therapists wear green scrubs and nurses wear blue scrubs. They usually have lots of pockets for storing gadgets, like pulse oximeters and scissors, beepers, and iPhones.

Lab coats. Comfortable coats are worn in labs or by medical professionals. They were traditionally white and went down to the knees. They were initially used to protect clothing from getting dirty. Doctor’s probably used them to keep blood off their clothing (i.e. surgeons). They are also useful for their pockets. Today, they come in a variety of colors. I'm boring, and mine is white. I use it mainly when it’s cold in the hospital, which isn’t very often.

Stethoscope. It’s that device used to listen to your heart and lung sounds. Many doctors, nurses, and respiratory therapists wear them around their necks. I personally like to keep mine in my pockets. I use it to listen to lung sounds before and after giving breathing treatments.

Hospital bed. They are small, twin beds, used in hospitals. They usually have rails in case you are at risk of falling out of bed. They also have heads that can go up and down. Traditionally, the heads were operated with a hand crank at the back of the bed. Today they are electric. Some modern ones are huge and come with many convenient options. For instance, one option allows nurses to weight patients so patients don’t have to get out of bed. Some patients say they are comfortable. But, some patients hate them.

Hospital gown. They are ugly gowns you wear in the hospital. They tie in the back and are open to the back, making it so your butt sticks out when you walk. They are nice because they give doctor’s easy access to you when needed. For instance, it’s easy to listen to your lung sounds and hook you up to all the bedside monitor equipment (if needed).

Gurney. It’s a small bed used to transport patients from one room to another. They’re usually black. They are generally uncomfortable.

Nasal cannula. It’s a plastic device that allows you to inhale supplemental oxygen. One end has two prongs that fit into your nares. The other end is connected to a flowmeter. The flowmeter is turned on, and this allows you to inhale a small amount of oxygen. It’s generally safe and comfortable to use. Most patients tolerate them well. Some people with COPD may even have one at home.

Flowmeter. They are small, hand-held meters that stick into an oxygen source in the wall of the hospital. The ones used for oxygen are green (same as my scrubs). The ones used for air are yellow. The colors are safety features. It makes it so you don’t accidentally use air when you want to use oxygen.

Christmas tree. They are small devices that fit onto the ends of flowmeters. The ones used for oxygen are green. So, they look like tiny Christmas trees, hence the name. They allow you to connect oxygen tubing to flowmeters. Note: the Christmas trees now used at our hospital are clear. But, in most hospitals, they are probably green for oxygen and yellow for air.

Oxygen masks. There are a variety of masks that can be used in hospitals. They allow us to give you higher amounts of oxygen when needed. They are rarely used, although are available if needed. Simple masks can be used to give breathing treatments.

Oxygen tubing. It’s plastic tubing that allows oxygen to flow from an oxygen source to either a nasal cannula or mask.

Crash cart. Some older ones look like tool carts. They contain all the equipment and medicine needed for emergent situations. For instance, if someone comes in having a heart attack, it has all the medicine and equipment we might need to help that person. So, if you’re in the emergency room, you might see it in the corner.

Bedside Monitor. It’s a monitor at the bedside in emergency rooms, operating rooms, and critical care rooms. Many cords are connected to the monitor. The other ends of these cords are connected to you. This allows us to monitor your heart rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure, and pulse oximetry.

Telemetry. It’s a small hand-held device that fits into a pocket on your hospital gown. It has cords that are connected to stickers that go on your chest. This is what you might wear if you are admitted to the general floors of the hospital if your doctor wants to monitor your heart. There will be no monitor in your room. Rather, it sends a signal to a monitor on a screen at the nurse's station. It allows the nurses or monitor techs to monitor your heart rate and rhythm at all times.

What to make of this?

These are just some basic terms of things you’ll see in the hospital setting. So, if you see them, now you know what they are. If you hear these terms bandied about, you now know what they mean.

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