Parents should be careful when they say that their child is "lethargic," when they only mean he is tired or a little droopy. Lethargic is one of those words that has a specific meaning for physicians: it implies a serious degree of illness, and is often used correctly to describe a child who is septic. The younger the patient - babies and toddlers under two years especially - the more alarming the "L-word" can be for the doctor. What parents mean is "very tired," which they should say plainly. Speak to your doctor in ordinary English (or Norwegian, if you are Norwegian). Do not try to impress her with your command of medical lingo. It can lead to confusion, unnecessary tests, and even needless admission to the hospital.

Other favorites:

  • projectile vomiting, translated "She spit up down my nightgown." Unless your baby has had pyloric stenosis or you have seen the movie The Exorcist  recently, you have not seen projectile vomiting. True projectile vomiting shoots straight out two or three feet and splashes off the wall behind your head. I kid you not.
  • high fever, when the parents actually mean 101° or so. Try to reserve "high fever" for temperatures perhaps around 103°F or greater. When reporting a fever, tell the doctor
    • what temperature you read without adding or subtracting anything
    • how you read it - rectal, oral, tympanic (ear thermometer), under the arm, tape on the forehead (least reliable)

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