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Decoding Clinical Talk

Recommended Vocabulary for Children for Medical Experiences

Vocabulary to Avoid or Explain – ‘Object Words’

  • Shot (use only if child uses term first indicating he/she understands and relates to this medically)
  • Injection
  • Poke
  • Stick (may confuse child)
  • Tourniquet (may use for older children)
  • Stretcher (‘stretch her’ – can be confusing)
  • Guerney
  • ‘Put to sleep’ (confused with putting a pet to sleep)
  • Anesthesia
  • ‘Cut open’
  • Incision
  • ‘Make a hole’ (too explicit; may leave child feeling incomplete)
  • I.V. (not like ivy)
  • Dye
  • X-ray (unless it’s obvious child already understands this term)
  • CT Scan & other scans (only if explained to child)
  • M.R.I.
  • Electrodes/EEG leads (too technical)
  • I.C.U. (‘I see you’)
  • N.P.O. (too technical)
  • O.R. table
  • Stool collection (confusing term – do you sit on it? chair?)
  • Urine specimen

Suggested Vocabulary – ‘Object Words’

  • Needle
  • Rubber band (for tourniquet)
  • Special bed on wheels
  • ‘Special kind of sleep’
  • ‘Help you go to sleep’
  • Small opening
  • Into the vein (I.V.)
  • Intravenous (for older children)
  • Medicine to help the doctor see
  • Picture/big camera (for X-ray)
  • ‘The camera will move but won’t touch you’
  • ‘Pictures of inside of you’
  • Snaps – fits together
  • Intensive Care Unit (explain)
  • ‘A place you’ll have your own special nurse’
  • ‘A place where you’ll get extra special care’
  • Nothing to eat
  • ‘Your stomach needs to be empty’
  • Bed
  • Poop/pooh (or child’s familiar term)
  • Pee (or child’s familiar term)

Vocabulary to Avoid or Explain – ‘Feeling Words’

  • Hurt (only if child uses this first, otherwise may be setting up expectation that may become self-fulfilling)
  • Irritate
  • Burn (too threatening)
  • Cold
  • Funny smell (may be confused with comical)
  • Bad tasting
  • Bad (try to use softer language)
  • Scratchy (may set up negative expectation due to connection with past experiences with scratches)

Suggested Vocabulary – ‘Feeling Words’

  • ‘It doesn’t hurt’ (ok to use when you are certain it won’t and child can only relate to that form of concrete reassurance)
  • Ouch/‘ouie’/sore/ache
  • Pinch/sting
  • Warm/cool feeling
  • Squeeze
  • Tight hug (for blood pressure)
  • Fits snuggly
  • Odd/different taste/smell
  • Unusual
  • Yucky (only after the fact)
  • ‘Has this been harder than you expected?’
  • ‘You may feel it in your throat’
  • Tickle
  • Sticky (for electrodes)
  • Full feeling

Language Specific for I.V.’s and O.R.

  • Medicine in the bag;
    • ‘You need different medicines to help you get better. Some is in the bag and some is added with the needle into the tube. You don’t feel the needle’.
    • ’It’s a different way of getting medicine’.
    • ’It’s the quickest way to make you better’.

Prior to Surgery

  • ‘Dry mouth’
  • ‘You may have a dry throat when you wake up’.
  • ‘Your throat may be a little sore when you wake up’.
  • ‘This is where you say ’see you later’ to your parents’. (when parents can’t stay with children until induction)

Post-Op Suggestions

  • ‘Your stomach has been asleep and resting. It needs time to wake up. As your stomach wakes up you will slowly be able to drink and then eat food again…’.

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