Years ago, when my wife was pregnant, none of the medical people ever used the word "pain." They would always say, "discomfort." I learned that in medical terminology, discomfort is somebody else's pain. Similarly, "minor surgery" is surgery on somebody other than the doctor talking about it.
I know that the operations erroneously dubbed "minor surgery" should not be put in the same category as brain or heart surgery or anything that's life-threatening. On the other hand, they shouldn't be lumped in with skinned knees.
I'm not writing this to get more sympathy for my surgery. I have already milked it for all it's worth with everyone I came into contact with in the past couple of weeks (and plenty of people on my e-mail list). I'm writing this for all those people who have had or are about to have surgery that the general public just won't take seriously. There's nothing humorous about a broken humerus.
In our culture, we tend to laugh or make light of certain ailments, body parts, and medical procedures. We're taught at a very young age by the movies that any kind of pain involving the rear end, the nose, or the genitals is supposed to be funny. And audiences laugh hysterically when a guy on screen throws out his back or drops a brick on his toe.
Of course, this doesn't make sense. These body parts hurt just as much as any other parts. Maybe in other cultures, people laugh when people hurt their jaws, knees, or ribs.
And how seriously does the public take procedures like tonsillectomies, fixed broken noses, and wart removals? And if you're unfortunate to have a "double whammy" of a funny body part and a punch-line condition — like a belly-button hernia — people are bound to laugh. With that duo, I might as well have had, uh, I mean, an individual might as well have had simultaneous hiccups and hemorrhoids.
Here's my point: this stuff hurts. For the person having it done, there's no such thing as "minor surgery." So, be nice when your employee wants an extra day off after having his wisdom teeth removed. Have a little compassion for the woman with the broken toe. Don't laugh at the guy wearing the neck collar even if he looks like he's going to be represented in court by Whiplash Willie.
I'm urging everyone to stop using the term "minor surgery." I want it removed from all dictionaries and medical texts. Let's just call it "surgery" from now on.
You think I'm wrong about this change of wording?
If it's so minor, why did I have to pay for the "facilities" in advance?
If it's so minor, why do they knock you unconscious? (My anesthesiologist felt compelled to tell me a joke before the surgery. Believe me, I laughed. I didn't want him getting mad and giving me too much or too little of something.)
If it's so minor, why did I have to fill out more forms than when we bought our house?
If it's so minor, why were there more nurses involved than in a sweeps episode of "ER? "
If it's so minor, why did I have to sign something saying that I wouldn't sue anybody in case they accidentally killed me? (Note to lawyer: I had my fingers crossed.)
If it's so minor, why did they make me wear one of those gowns that you have to be a contortionist to close, and then you've still got stuff hanging out the back?
If it's so minor, why is a sneeze a major event for me?
If it's so minor, why did I watch so much TV while recuperating that I learned far too much about Anna Nicole Smith, professional bull riding, and this device that costs only $14.95 that can enable you to hear what your neighbors are talking about hundreds of feet away? (Not available in stores.)
So, I hope you'll join me in getting rid of the word "minor" from the medical vocabulary. If you're not convinced by all of the above reasons, I think you'll come aboard when you think about that thing that comes in the mail from the doctor. After all, there's nothing "minor" about the bill.
Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some which had medical terms in them.
By Lloyd Garver