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Nursing Lingo Part 1: Circling the Drain

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Like any profession, nursing comes with its own jargon.  “Keep Vein Open,” “Drips,” “Early Ambulation,” and “Ins & Outs” are some of the phrases you’ll hear emanating from Nurses’ Stations at change of shift.  But nurses, a communicative bunch, have also developed nursing lingo you may be less familiar with, no matter how many seasons of ER you watched.    This week, I’ll share a few of my favorites.

Circling the Drain

After doing your dishes, you flip on the garbage disposal. You watch a floating piece of iceberg lettuce as it starts circling the drain. You know the lettuce is headed to destruction.  It’s not headed straight for the drain.  There is still time to intervene.  But moment by moment it gets closer and closer to an inevitable destination.  This is an apt metaphor for some floor patients.  They aren’t worsening so dramatically that they need to be shipped to the ICU. However, they need closer observation and hopefully a medical intervention that might stop the decline.  Without intervention, they’re headed for trouble.

Veteran nurses can almost sense when this is happening. To those of you newer to nursing, here are some possible signs: You’ve bumped up their oxygen requirements twice in one shift, their heart rate is higher than is usual for them, or they getting increasingly exhausted or confused.  Describing this patient to the physicians, other nurses, or the charge nurse as “circling the drain” will help them understand that this is a patient that needs intervention or a higher level of care and needs it now.

Next post I’ll explain the Southern nursing lingo term, “DFO’ed.”  Any guesses what it means?

Nursing Lingo Part 2: DFO

Nursing Lingo Part 3: Frequent Flyers


8 responses »

  1. HaH!! Done Fell Out!!

  2. Pingback: Nursing Lingo Part 3: Frequent Flyers « Bedpans

  3. Pingback: Nursing Lingo: DFO « Bedpans

  4. Pingback: Nursing Lingo Part 5: CYA « Bedpans

  5. I am a student who just stumbled upon your blog looking for a better report sheet. I love you blog and hope to catch up on it when my summer break hits. Oh, and while I had not heard the term circling the drain, I have heard of the ‘signs of impending doom’ increase HR, increase BP decrease urine output.

    • Thanks for your comment! I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the blog. I love the term “impending sense of doom.” It seems like the term would be more fitting for a visit from the in-laws than as a medial symptom. I’ve most often heard “impending sense of doom” as a feeling that a patient can have right before having a major event such as a PE (pulmonary embolism).

  6. Pingback: Nursing Lingo Part 6: Walkie/Talkie « Bedpans

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