The secret language of hospital nurses

Have a sneaking suspicion that a nurse might be talking about you behind your back?

Three nurses at a hospital in Sydney agreed to speak with me on the condition that they remain anonymous, since they worried sharing their secret terminology might affect their professionalism with patients. While unwinding from a 12-hour shift, they explained to me the ways that communication and vocabulary play in the world of nursing.

“Part of nursing is being an effective communicator,” one nurse explained, “You have to use a lot of precise, diplomatic language. You have to be able to tell people some sensitive shit in a way that isn’t offensive, but still communicates the gravity of whatever information you’re conveying. You have to really learn how to communicate and be comfortable with it, and also have good judgment with it.”

When speaking to doctors, they tell me, calculated communication is key. “When talking to a doctor… you have to make them think that whatever they’re going to do was their idea,” the day nurse said.


FURB: n. Funny, unusual rectal blockage.

FLK: n. Funny looking kid.

BFH: n. Brat from hell.

Walkie Talkie: n. [A patient who] can get up, go to the bathroom on his own. Doesn’t need your help, just needs you to bring him his meds.

Total: n. A person who can’t do anything, [needs] total care. You have to bathe them, feed them. Sometimes they can respond to you, sometimes they look at you.

Frequent Flyer: n. Someone who gets admitted a lot. a.k.a “Repeat Offender.”

NPO: n. Someone who can’t put anything in their mouth. No food, no drinks, sometimes no pills. Etymology: Acronym of Latin phrase “Nil Per Os,” meaning “nothing by mouth.”

FMP: n. (acronym, archaic) Fluff My Pillow. A patient who keeps calling you. Riding the call bell. a.k.a. Fluff My Pillow Syndrome

Pillow Therapy: n. To smother someone in their sleep. e.g. When someone’s irritating you and you just want to give them some pillow therapy.

Beemer: A patient with a high body mass index (BMI), obese.

CTD: adj. (acronym) Circling The Drain. When someone is going bad on us, declining. Usage: People started to figure out what that meant, so we weren’t allowed to say it anymore.

Make a Celestial Discharge: v. Die.

The Talk: n. The talk where [a nurse] explains [to a patient’s family] that what’s being done isn’t going to help make their loved one better—nothing is—and explains the dying process, what comfort care is, et cetera.


The secret language of hospital nurses
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