Keepin’ It Real: Terminology For The 21st Century


I have always been a big proponent of calling a ‘spade a spade’ and telling it like it is. I don’t want things sugar coated or watered down to make them sound nicer or less scary. Give it to me straight or not at all. This belief was reinforced during my last doctor’s visit. I had been having one of those days… you know, those days that guy Murphy had in mind when he wrote up his laws. Yeah those days. Everything that could have gone wrong did and a 4 pm doctor appointment didn’t promise to turn the day around. After twisting my shoulder into a pretzel and having me touch my toes (for which I needed a crane to return to a vertical position), the term got flung at me like an out of control curve ball: degenerative disc disease.

My first reaction was a very loud, very unladylike snort. Of course…why not add another disease/syndrome/illness/ailment du jour to the long laundry list of my medical chart? I mean, after all, when you have two or three under your belt, the diagnosis are like eating those first few fresh baked cookies… you’re already screwed so why not eat the whole pan? After the snort, I began to get a little peeved… degenerative disc disease, it sounded so sterile and colorless. What exactly was it? What are discs and what do they have to do with past generations of my family tree? I walked out of there still scratching my head until I was able to Google the condition in my car. Degenerative disc disease = A break down of the discs in the spine that causes gradual deterioration and is a condition that can be painful and can greatly affect the quality of one’s life.

Ya think?

I prefer something a little more straightforward in description, like Pancake Spine = Depreciation of the squishy things wedged in your spine and is a condition that will occasionally shoot a lightning bolt from the base of your skull down to your butt crack.

The new definition (let’s call it a Stephanition) keeps it real, is to the point and lets you know straight up what you can expect. Living with chronic illness is anything but mainstream and routine, so I propose that we change all offensive medical terminology to more appropriate terms that save us from wasting spoons on search engines and monotonous explanations to healthy people. I have listed few of my personal favorites below along with their original name and definition. As you can see, the Stephanitions are clearly the better choice.

ORIGINAL: Alopecia – The partial or complete loss of hair—especially on the scalp—either in patches, on the entire head or over the entire body.

STEPHANITION: Mr. Clean Syndrome – The gradual or unexpected exit of any and all hair on the scalp and/or eyebrows. The hair many come out in patches or all at once, providing an excellent opportunity to craft one’s own winter afghan.

ORIGINAL: Anemia – A condition in which the blood is deficient in red blood cells, in hemoglobin, or in total volume.

STEPHANITION: Systemically Iron Challenged – A condition in which a random drop of red blood cells causes spontaneous exhaustion, freakish white eyelids and carnivorous tendencies towards bovine. Often treated with iron supplements (see “constipated for eternity”).

ORIGINAL: Butterfly Rash – A red, flat facial rash over the bridge of the nose. Because of its shape, it is frequently referred to as the “butterfly rash” of lupus.

STEPHANITION: Baboon Rash – A Kool-Aid stain over the bridge of the nose that extends across the cheeks and who knows where else. Because of its likeness to a misplaced baboon’s butt, it is frequently referred to as the “baboon rash.”. Also impervious to foundation, concealer or household spackle.

ORIGINAL: Celiac Disease – A permanent intolerance to gluten that results in damage to the intestine and is reversible with avoidance of dietary gluten.

STEPHANITION: Cookie Contamination Disease – An allergy to anything that tastes good. Avoidance of dietary gluten can be supplemented by gluten free products, most of which require a second mortgage and taste like couch cushions.

ORIGINAL: Chemotherapy – A therapy that uses toxic drugs to slow or reverse the spread of cancer. The drugs are injected into the bloodstream to poison rapidly growing cancer cells. Side effects include damage to healthy cells and organs. In addition, there are the better known side effects of nausea, hair loss and fatigue.

STEPHANITION: Vomm-o-therapy – A therapy that uses a combination of poison and turpentine to treat conditions such as cancer and/or autoimmune disorders. The drug is injected into the bloodstream or ingested in pill form. Side effects include: bobbing for your spleen in the toilet, dental destruction and Mr. Clean Syndrome.

ORIGINAL: Chronic Fatigue – A debilitating and complex disorder characterized by profound fatigue that is not improved by bed rest and most persons with CF often function at a substantially lower level of activity than they were capable of before the onset of illness.

STEPHANITION: Stair-a-phobia – A very real disorder characterized by an inability to function without a steady supply of No-Doz and an intravenous caffeine drip. Although people with Stair-a-phobia desire to do normal things such as exercise, they often have to take a nap after tying their Nikes.

ORIGINAL: Corticosteroids – A steroid hormone produced by the adrenal cortex or synthesized; administered as drugs they reduce swelling and decrease the body’s immune response.

STEPHANITION: Satan’s Tic-Tacs – The most evil substance known to man, specifically designed to reduce swelling, as well as stupidity tolerance. Side effects generally include: insomnia, a bloated puffer-fish physique and a transformation into Quasimodo.

ORIGINAL: Endoscopy – The examination of a bodily orifice, canal or organ using a long flexible tube with a lens at one end and a magnifying eyepiece at the other.

STEPHANITION: Patient-ka-bob – The examination of every natural body orifice from north to south and everywhere in between using a hose and a telescope. Receivers of this procedure are usually under the influence of anesthesia so as not to hear the laughter of medical personnel as they are turned into a rotisserie chicken.

ORIGINAL: Immune System – A system (including the thymus and bone marrow and lymphoid tissues) that protects the body from foreign substances and pathogenic organisms by producing the immune response.

STEPHANITION: Cannibal System – A system that is as useful as a sixth toe on a left foot due to the fact that it doesn’t protect as much as attacks innocent by-standing organs. This system is largely considered to be a mythical urban legend along with Big Foot, Loch Ness and Charlie Sheen’s sanity.

ORIGINAL: Oral Ulcer – The name for the appearance of an open sore inside the mouth caused by a break in the mucous membrane or the epithelium on the lips or surrounding the mouth.

STEPHANITION: Craters of Hell – Painful and mortifying sores that appear and multiply inside of the mouth during periods of a flare. Although size and depth may vary, the ability to eat, drink, speak or otherwise do anything but drool is halted for the duration. Sometimes referred to as “best diet ever.”

ORIGINAL: Photosensitivity – Oversensitivity of the skin to sunlight or other forms of light. It sometimes follows exposure to certain chemicals or drugs, resulting in accelerated burning of the skin.

STEPHANITION: Vampirosis – Tendency of the skin to burst into a ball of flames when introduced to anything but cold, dark hall closet light. Its name comes from the Latin vampiro, which is loosely translated as “fun sucking light aversion.”

ORIGINAL: Pleurisy – An inflammation of the pleura or membrane that covers the inside of the thorax. It is accompanied with fever, pain, difficult respiration and cough. The usual remedies are venesection, other evacuations, diluents, etc.

STEPHANITION: Lung-in-a-Vice – An inflammation of the microscopic membrane of the lungs. It is accompanied by medical personnel skepticism, a fifty ton elephant using your chest as a step stool and a repetitive stabbing of your sternum by a dull pick axe. The usual remedies are an Arnold Schwarzenegger size shot of steroids and a 20 hour wait in the ER.

ORIGINAL: Probable Diagnosis – The act or process of identifying or determining the nature and cause of a disease or injury through evaluation of patient history, examination, and review of laboratory data.

STEPHANITION: Shruggable Diagnosis – The act or process of a physician reaching behind him and pulling a diagnosis out of his butt in lieu of research and further detailed testing.


Article written by Senior Editor, Stephanie Kennedy.

Stephanie lives in Fayetteville, NC and is the mother of 3 always hyperactive and occasionally adorable children. She was diagnosed with Ssystemic Lupus Erythematosus in 2001 and in the time since, has added Scleroderma, Hashimoto and Celiac disease. In her day-to-day life she is a Community Relations Specialist (aka, marketing and creative hodgepodge facilitator) and a part-time blogging snarkzilla. She can always be found somewhere in social media-land causing some sort of trouble. Find her on twitter at @steph_in_nc or on facebook at Stephanie Welborn Kennedy.

  • Aeva

    This is fantastic! Definitely gave me a laugh on an ouchy day!

    Nit-picky note- Anemia is not always connected to iron. Many of us with blood disorders are anemic but have normal levels of iron (or in my case, levels twice as high as they should be because my doctors refused to test me for the genetic blood condition I knew I had, and instead put me on iron tablets which made my stomach explode)

  • Phoebe

    Thank you for this! I’ve had one of those weeks where my illnesses take over but I’ve laughed for the first time tonight 🙂

  • Debby

    Love it! My family is sick of me adding illnesses and diseases to the list! They joke about it all the time. I have just added a duodenal ulcer to my long, long list.

  • Christle Waugh

    I’m a human lab test rat..and I totally get this post.. Quite perfect explaination of terms..Brought a smile to my face..the real kind..not the one people see 🙂

  • B

    I had a scope done of my stomach in twilight, the last thing I remember is the doctor saying swallow in a dream state… my current doc is contemplating a colonoscopy… so human kabob is accurate.

  • Heidi

    Good gravy…I laughed so hard my dog was looking at me weird!
    After a stinky day…this was by far my highlight!

  • Melissa

    Fantastic description of pleurisy, whch I’ve had one and off for 8 yrs, secondary to bronchiectasis. Thanks for the laugh.

  • Cheryl

    This gave me a MUCH needed laugh. After having a very long night and day, this couldn’t have come at a better time. I have been disabled for 11 years with a “Shruggable Diagnosis”. I tell my docs that I am their human test subject, with all the different meds they try on me. Maybe you could find a word for that?

  • Ambi D

    I had bookmarked this in the past. Re-discovered it tonight, clearing off a laptop to lend to a young man who needs one.

    Thanks so much. I think I’ve actually just peed myself through laughter, instead of feeling like I’d done it through sweating! This is progress ! (I’d list the acronyms, but I’m so wonky and labelled I forget how to spell letters you know! LOL).

    love this. Gotta send it to my Dr. , Physio, and Osteopath… 😀

  • Victoria

    I love all the sick humor on your site – and all the articles too, but there’s nothing like a good laugh when all day you’ve been wishing for the body transplant fairy to finally grant you a visit. I have EDS-H with dysautonomia and this whole list is so hilarious! It totally made my day.

  • Cass

    My roommate just came home from a trip with our soccer team to find me laughing hysterically at 1 am. This site is a godsend for me, as I swear I am slowly becoming nocturnal, and my best friend recently informed me that I don’t laugh anymore. Both can be attributed to being sick… I recently added a third syndrome to my list. This article made me laugh while simultaneously realizing that there are others like me. Thank you!!!

  • Ilana

    Oh my gosh, I *literally* laughed out loud!! I have Crohn’s and IBS and this list is GENIUS!

  • Abigail

    Oh this totally cracked me up, whilst tears of truth streamed down my face. Thank you for the giggle

  • dave

    ha ha loved it.
    as a newbie to this site and having numerous spinal problems due to a broken back in ’89 and just diagnosed with cidp too i was reading the spoon theory.
    thought it brilliant.
    needed the humour too.
    well done!!

  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: Road-killitis

    (Feel like road-kill all the time.)

  • Friggen hilarious! I’m just in my first year after diagnosis, now dealing with arthritis without NSAIDS (insert pissy-frowny face). Having watched my sister through about ten years I thought man I’d never wish that on anyone! Then last year HELLO LUPUS. I never thought I’d laugh about SLE & its’ side-kicks that much!! Thank you.

  • Christie

    After I got soda out of my nose!!!

    I have to share with you, the most honest, uplifting thing any one of my doctors have ever said to me.

    IM Doc: “My goal for you is, that you will feel like shit for the rest of your life.”

    Me: “Really?”

    IM Doc: “Admit it, compared to how you feel right now? Shit will feel GREAT!”

    Several years later… when I see him for my check ups, he always asks how I am feeling.
    My response is always the same.
    “I feel like shit!”
    He always responds the same.
    “Shit feels pretty damned good, doesn’t it?”

    Yeah… yeah it does!

  • Karen

    I LOVE this, my daughter has just come downstairs because she could hear me laughing from her bedroom, and it ended up with both of us sat here with tears rolling down our faces. I loved the endoscopy and she has written down your pleurisy definition to read to everyone at school tomorrow!

  • Wendy

    That was TFF!! I will make sure this is printed out so that next time I end up in the hospital, I can get a laugh and maybe have a little fun with my docs and nurses!

  • Oh, dear, I must agree with the “don’t read this late at night” analysis. I hope I didn’t wake my husband just now with my snorting and chortling 😀

    But I’d much rather have my sides hurting from laughter than anything else.

    Will be definitely sharing this as it’s EXCELLENT!

  • Kirstie

    Amen Cuna. IC could also be known as “I swear I’m not pregnant!” syndrome or “Gotta-go-again-itis”

  • Stacey

    Holy crap! That’s hilarious. I’m forwarding this to a spoonie friend who is currently coming down with a cold. She could use the laugh.

    Also, I work in neurology and half of our surgical and non-surgical patients are there for….you guessed it: degenerative disc disease. Or from this day forward referred to as pancake spine. I’m actually pretty sure patients will find that funnier anyway since they can attest to that first hand and they like a little humor with their nursing staff first thing in the morning (ahem, I wake them at 7 am when I get there….every spoonie knows that’s just mean, and I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t have to).

    Loved every single one of these.

  • Jennifer Doyle

    Enjoyed your article! Your a wonderful writer and the Stephanisms or what every you called them where catchy and clever! Have a blessed week! Jennifer

  • Rhonda Patten

    Love …love it!! Thank you for the giggles, I have needed a good hearty belly laugh this past month. I can relate to almost all it. Well written.

  • Cuna

    Ohh! Allow me to contribute! I love this!

    Interstitial Cystitis: Interstitial cystitis (IC) is a painful condition due to inflammation of the tissues of the bladder wall. The cause is unknown. The condition is usually diagnosed by ruling out other conditions such as STDs and/or bladder infections. It also sounds like you sneeze when you pronounce its name, though it technically translates to “burning in the space between spaces”.

    IC is frequently misdiagnosed as a urinary tract infection. Patients often go years without a correct diagnosis.

    Fire Pee Syndrome: After repeated misdiagnoses for “In Your Head Syndrome” and “Bladder Infection” the Pee Fire Syndrome (PFS) is often diagnosed due to the patient’s frequent complaints of “when I pee, it feels like a stream of fire and/or magma is being ejected from my urethra on a regular/semi-regular basis.” Its name is self-explanatory, but does not particularly captivate the nuances of the disorder, which is rumoured to be hundreds of diseases/disorders/syndromes, but we have no clue about what causes them.

  • I liked it.I wish you were around when we were going through these things to keep my husband and I laughing.thanks

  • Jamey

    My husband has degenerative disc disease and at first he did have pain and had to take anti inflammatories, muscle relaxers and pain pills but then the disc degenerated into a much more comfortable position and he hasnt had back issues for a while now… he went to a few doctors (orthopedic specialists) and they told him that as the disc changes (degenerates) it can be more painful or less painful.. so its like a rolller coaster ride. but sometimes the disc will degenerate into a position that is cumfy for you.. he is very very active, puts our 4 year old on his shoulders and recently yanked a tree stump out of our yard!! so i wish you well but its not as bad as it seems.. it may hurt now but as the disc degenerate more, it may change to a cumfy position. good luck with it all… Funny post otherwise!

  • LivingwithIC

    These are GREAT!!! I am still laughing…and I needed a laugh. Thanks!!!

  • Dawn Cooper

    Thanks for the laugh!! Definitely needed it right about now. I’m sorry to hear of your latest diagnosis of Pancake Spine!! My Pancake Spine has had me down and out for about two years now!! I wish you much better health with yours. 🙂

  • Steph

    Thanks for much needed humor! I now know what to correctly call prednisone–Satan’s Tic Tacs! LOL

    I can relate to many of these. I have Juvenile Dermatomyositis.

  • Carla

    I don’t know about waiting for any publisher, but I’m all in for the t-shirt idea!

  • Jeanine

    This should have come with a warning “do not read late at night. Loud guffaws will wake and startle family members.” Hilarious!