Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The HP factor

Sharon Wildwind

During my forty years in nursing, I’ve battled big words.

First there was equipment, like sphygmomanometer. Then there were diseases: idiopathic cytopenic purpura comes to mind. Followed by the gobbledygook of pharmacology. “This medication is a dihydropyridine calcium antagonist that inhibits the transmembrane influx of calcium ions.”

Being from a bilingual state (Louisiana) and now living in a bilingual country (Canada), I can even read nursing articles in both English and French.

But for the past few years, a new term in nursing journals has confounded me. I can’t pronounce it. When I see it my eye glides over it. My brain has taken to referring to it as, “The HP Factor,” after the popular British vinegar, fruit, and spice condiment.

The term is


Take a minute to study those words. Try to pronounce them. The best of British luck to you.

A couple of weeks ago I came to an article where understanding those words was essential to understanding the article. I resolved, finally, to find out what they meant.

I spent a morning Googling my way through Greek myth, philosophy, the dialectic between the critical and the romantic, text as the artifact of lived experience, interpretative dialog, re-constructionist criticism, ontology versus epistemology, phenomena versus noumena, and Edmond Husserl’s Zu den Sachen, which I learned means, more or less, “Let's get down to what matters!”

Fortunately, I’d packed a lunch and remembered to tie the end of a ball of string to my desk chair before I set out, so I was able to find my way back to my office.

It turned out that hermeneutic phenomenology means that lived experiences are meaningful in themselves, but in order to communicate both what happened, and what meaning the experience had, the person who lived through something has to be able to convert the experience into descriptive language.

As writers, we call this, “Write what you know.”

I’m so glad to have that out of the way. Now I can start my holidays with peace of mind.

I wish everyone the best of the season.

5 comments:

Sheila Connolly said...

I love sphygmo... whatever. It's impossible to pronounce, much less spell (although recently it was a Jeopardy clue, and they got it right!)

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Sharon, I'm so glad you did the work. I have always thanked my lucky stars I didn't get a doctorate and become an English professor the way I once thought I would, because I would have been TEACHING deconstructionism, with its unnecessary mouthful of made-up words like "hermeneutic," for the past few decades. I hear it stopped being fashionable in France, where it was invented, a lot earlier than in America. I'm appalled to hear it's infested nursing journals. Even after reading your excellent explanation, if you ask me to define "hermeneutic," my best answer is still, "Say what?" BTW, FWIW, I CAN pronounce sphygmomanometer and know what it is. For communicating, "blood pressure machine" will do.

Sharon Wildwind said...

Personally, I'm fond of "thingy." It coves a lot of territory, as in, "Let me get the thingy and I'll take your blood pressure." or "Hand me that silver thingy, will you."

Where HP has come into nursing is as the buzz word for interviewing patients, their caregivers, and their families about what the experience of health issues and health care has been for them. Even with big words, at least we've finally got around to recognizing that lived experience has something to teach us.

signlady217 said...

I'm in the middle of taking an online course for medical transcription. I actualy knew what you were talking about (before you explained it)! But I do think sometimes that the words sound totally made up on the spot just to confuse everybody. Now I know how some of my algebra and geometry students felt! Yikes!

Have a great Christmas everybody!

Lonnie Cruse said...

I'd heard the "H" word, so I knew how to pronounce it, as to the "P" word, hmmm.

Merry Christmas to all of you as well.