"We Can't Kill Your Mother" and Other Stories of Intensive Care
by Lawrence Martin, M.D.
Table of Contents
- AIDS - acquired immunodeficiency syndrome; in AIDS the body's
infection-fighting immune system is severely depressed and altered.
AIDS is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
- angiogram - a test whereby dye is injected into a blood vessel to
outline the vessel and any abnormality within it. See pulmonary
- apnea - absence of breathing; an apneic episode or spell is a short
interval of not breathing.
- arterial - pertaining to the arteries, e.g. arterial blood.
- arterial blood gas - refers to the pressure of oxygen and/or carbon dioxide in
arterial blood; abbreviated ABG. An 'ABG' test routinely measures pressures of both gases, along
with the level of blood acidity.
- arterial line - a thin tube inserted into a patient's artery, usually the
radial artery, for purposes of monitoring blood pressure or drawing frequent arterial blood gases.
This technique is only used in intensive care units or in the operating room.
- artery - blood vessel that carries oxygen-rich blood from the heart to
the body's organs and tissues.
- artificial ventilation - method of supplementing or taking over a
patient's breathing with a machine (ventilator). The patient is connected to the ventilator
via an endotracheal tube inserted through the mouth or nose.
- artificial ventilator - see ventilator.
- autoimmune diseases - a large and heterogeneous group of
diseases characterized by altered immunity; usually, antibodies form in
the blood directed against some part of healthy tissue
- biopsy - removal of a piece of tissue from some part of the body for
- blood gases - general term for carbon dioxide and oxygen in the blood;
see arterial blood gas.
- bronchitis - inflammation or infection of the airways (bronchi).
- bronchodilator - a drug that relaxes airway smooth muscle and
helps open up narrowed airways; useful in treating asthma.
- bronchoscope - thin, flexible tube used to perform bronchoscopy;
useful to diagnose many pulmonary conditions.
- bronchoscopy - procedure whereby a thin, flexible tube (the bron- choscope) is
inserted, via the mouth or nose, into the lungs; used to visualize the airways and diagnose many lung
diseases. A biopsy can be done through the bronchoscope.
- capillary - the smallest blood vessel. Capillaries go to all organs
to bring vital oxygen and take up carbon dioxide; in the lungs the
process is reversed: fresh oxygen is taken up and carbon dioxide
- carbon dioxide - colorless, odorless gas, a byproduct of normal metabolism;
abbreviated CO2. Carbon dioxide is excreted by the lungs through the natural process of
- catheter - a thin, plastic tube that can be inserted into part of the
- catheterization - general term for inserting a tube into a blood vessel.
In cardiac catheterization a
thin tube (catheter)
is inserted through a vein
or artery and
into the chambers of
- coronary - pertaining to blood vessels that serve the heart muscle; so-called
- coronary care unit - area of hospital for patients with acute heart disease,
- CT scan - Computerized tomography scan (also sometimes called
CAT scan for computerized axial tomography); a sophisticated x-ray
technique which can "slice" any section of the body to reveal details of
anatomy not seen with conventional x-rays.
- coumadin - a medication that makes the blood less likely to clot;
used to treat many medical conditions, including pulmonary embolism;
can only be taken by mouth.
- dialysis - process of cleansing the blood of toxins; in hemodialysis, used
- diuretic - a drug that promotes urine flow; a diuretic can be taken
by mouth as a pill or administered by the intravenous route.
- dopamine - an intravenous drug used to raise a patient's low blood
pressure. See pressors.
- dyspnea - shortness of breath.
- emboli, embolism - when a blood clot moves from one part of the part
of the body to another; in pulmonary embolism the clot moves from some region of the
body to the lungs.
- emphysema - a chronic pulmonary disease, usually due to smoking, that
leads to shortness of breath and blockage of airflow.
- encephalitis - inflammation of the brain; see encephalopathy.
- encephalopathy - a general term for confusion due to global brain disease.
There are many possible causes including
and lack of oxygen.
- endoscopy - general term for insertion of a flexible, diagnostic tube
a hollow organ; gastrointestinal
endoscopy involves inserting an
endoscope into the stomach
- endotracheal tube - a hollow plastic tube, approximately a foot long
the mouth or
trachea. It is used to facilitate artificial ventilation.
- esophagus - hollow tube that connects the mount with the
- exsanguinate - to bleed out, hemorrhage.
- gastroenterology - specialty of medicine involved with diagnosing
and treating gastrointestinal (stomach and intestinal) disorders; a
specialist in this field is a gastroenterologist.
- hematocrit - percentage of blood volume comprised of red blood cells
normal range for hematocrit is
38-45% in women, 42-50% in men.
- hemodialysis - see dialysis.
- hemoptysis - coughing up blood.
- heparin - a medication that makes the blood less likely to clot;
used to treat many medical conditions, including pulmonary embolism;
is given intravenously or subcutaneously.
- HIV - human immunodeficiency virus, the virus responsible for
- housestaff - the interns and residents in a teaching hospital; also
spelled house staff.
- hyperthyroid - elevated level of thyroid hormone, the hormone that
- hyperventilation - over-ventilation or over-breathing. Hyperventilation is accompanied by a reduced carbon dioxide level in the blood.
- hypothyroid - low level of thyroid hormone.
- hypoventilation - under-ventilation or under-breathing. Hypo- ventilation is
always accompanied by an elevated carbon dioxide level in the blood.
- hypoxemia - low oxygen level in the blood. Hypoxemia can manifest
as either a low oxygen pressure (PO2) or a low oxygen saturation; see PO2.
- immunosuppressed - when the body's immune system for fighting
infection is suppressed or altered; this is the principal problem in AIDS
patients. Immunosuppression is also found in many other situations, e.g.
during treatment with cancer drugs.
- insulin - a hormone made by the pancreas, necessary to allow
glucose to enter the cells; a lack of insulin leads to diabetes.
- insult - in medical terminology, refers to damage or injury to a
part of the body, e.g., an insult to the liver
- intravenous - refers to route for medication or fluids given directly
into a vein.
- intubation - the placement of an endotracheal tube into the patient's
airway, usually for purposes of providing artificial ventilation; see
- meningitis - inflammation of the meninges, the thin membrane that
covers the brain and spinal cord.
- MICU - medical intensive care unit; area of the hospital for acutely
ill patients, excluding those with surgical problems or primary cardiac
- Munchausen - name given to a patient who fakes illness in order to
gain medical attention or admission to the hospital; after Baron von
Munchausen, an 18th century teller of tall tales.
- mycoplasma - a bacteria-like organism that can cause pneumonia.
- O2 - Chemical symbol for oxygen.
- opportunistic infection - an infection by an uncommon organism
(may be a bacteria, virus or fungus), one that takes advantage of a
patient's suppressed or altered immunity (hence opportunistic), such as
is found in AIDS patients.
- overdose - general term for taking an excess of medication; an
overdose can be intentional (e.g., suicidal), or accidental (e.g.,
swallowing too many pills for headache relief).
- oxygen - essential element of life; a colorless, odorless gas that comprises
21% of earth's atmosphere. Abbreviated O2.
- Pickwickian syndrome - term used to characterize a patient who is
obese, falls asleep easily during the day and has an elevated level of blood
- plasmapheresis - technique of separating out certain proteins from
and other illnesses.
- pneumonia - infection of the lung tissues; can arise from many different
- PO2 - Partial pressure of oxygen (O2) in the blood. Any value for PO2
hypoxemia and potential
- pressors - intravenous drugs used to support or raise a low blood pressure.
used pressor is
- psychosis - severe mental disturbance characterized by personality disintegration
- pulmonary - referring to the lungs.
- pulmonary angiogram - dye is injected into the main pulmonary
through a catheter, to outline the arteries within the lungs; this test is
occasionally used to help diagnose pulmonary emboli.
- pulmonary embolism - see emboli
- respiration - general term for the process of bringing in oxygen from
the atmosphere to the blood and excreting carbon dioxide from the blood to the atmosphere.
Respiration is made possible by the process of breathing.
- respirator - see ventilator.
- respiratory failure - condition where the lungs have failed in their primary
function of bringing adequate oxygen to the blood and of
excreting carbon dioxide; in respiratory failure the level of blood oxygen is either reduced
or the level of carbon dioxide is increased, or both.
- scan - a general term for a variety of tests that "scan" or survey
a part of the body, usually done in the radiology department. A lung
scan is done to look for pulmonary emboli.
- sepsis - infection involving the blood stream.
- subcutaneous - under the skin; a subcutaneous injection is one given
just under the skin, into the subcutaneous tissue.
- surgical intensive care unit - area of hospital for patients who need
intensive care after an operation (e.g., after heart surgery), or patients
who have suffered major trauma (e.g., gunshot wound). (Compare with
MICU, coronary care unit.)
- tachycardia - fast heart rate, usually over 100 beats per minute.
- TB - see tuberculosis.
- teratogenic - able to cause birth defects.
- trachea - medical name for `windpipe,' the airway that connects the
back of the throat to the lungs. The trachea is
the largest airway and
divides into two bronchi.
- tracheostomy - a surgical procedure that places a hole in the trachea,
through which is inserted a short (usually plastic) tube. Tracheostomy
is almost always done on patients who need long term artificial
- tuberculosis - disease caused by a bacteria called mycobacteria tuberculosis;
abbreviated TB. TB usually involves the lungs but may also appear in any part
of the body.
- vasoconstrictor - any substance that constricts or narrows blood
- vein - blood vessel that carries venous blood from the tissues back
to the heart; venous blood is low in oxygen. See arterial.
- venous - pertaining to the veins, e.g. venous blood.
- ventilation - a general term for the physiologic process of delivering
fresh air to the lungs for gas exchange. The term is sometimes
used interchangeably with respiration.
- ventilator - a machine capable of taking over a patient's breath- ing,
also called a respirator. See artificial ventilation.
- END -
Dr. Martin was Chief of the Division of Pulmonary and Critical
Care Medicine, Mt. Sinai Medical Center, in Cleveland from 1976-2000,
when the hospital closed its doors. He is now practicing pulmonary medicine with
University Mednet, and is an Associate Professor of Medicine, CWRU School of Medicine.
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