The medical world is full of acronyms. A patient who is “DNR” has a directive demanding that doctors not use certain means to potentially prolong the patient’s life. “CBC” stands for “complete blood count,” a diagnostic tool used to measure various aspects of the components of a patient’s blood. And there’s “NPO,” which stands for “nil per os” — Latin for “nothing by mouth” — and instructs patients and caretakers alike that the patient must refrain from eating or drinking until further notice.
And then, there’s “TTFO” — “told to [go away],” let’s say.
In 2003, the BBC interviewed Dr. Adam Fox, a physician at St. Mary’s Hospital in London. Fox had “spent four years charting over 200 colorful examples” of doctor slang — terms physicians have used to, among themselves, complain about patients out in the open. One just needed to know the lingo. Among the offensive-if-you-knew-what-it-meant initialisms were FLK (“funny-looking kid”), LOBNH (“lights on but nobody’s home”), and DBI (“dirt bag index,” referencing the numbers of missing teeth and tattoos of the patient in question). Another one, according to Wikipedia (and not mentioned in the profile of Fox) is GOMER, an acronym for “get out of my emergency room,” which is used to describe a patient “bordering on death, hence taking up room unnecessarily in the hospital.” (Yikes.)
In general, these notes go undiscovered or, at least, unnoticed by patients, which is a good thing, because no one — least of all an ailing person awaiting care in a hospital — wants to be find out that he or she is a ten out of ten on the dirt bag index or so sickly as to not warrant the attention of an ER doc. But in one case documented by Dr. Fox, a patient did, in fact, notice an initialism — the aforementioned TTFO. Thankfully, the doctor covered for himself — he said it stood for “to take fluids orally.”
From the Archives: The Best ICU in the Universe: Where the doctors don’t use acronyms because there are no doctors.
Related: “Medical Terminology for Dummies,” 4.7 stars on 43 reviews, but doesn’t seem to have “TTFO” listed within its 384 pages.