Surgery, Explained!

So, you or someone you know or an article you’re reading or a television show you’re watching is talking about medicine; specifically: surgery. Someone is going to have an operation, and you are told what it is. For a moment everything the person is saying transmutes into a blur of syllables, and despite your polite nodding you secretly have no idea what it is that is being done. Well, here is a brief translation post to help you understand everyone’s favourite surgical procedures!

The key is not to try and remember every operation – that is too much like hard work and nobody beyond the Profession has that kind of desire (and many within don’t either). There are some things you just have to know – a Mitrofanoff, for example – but otherwise most operations can be worked out by the name.

So, what can you achieve with surgery? At the simplest level, there are four things you can do: you can take something out, you can reshape something that is there, you can fix something in place, or you can join things together. Each of these has it’s own suffix – the last bit of the name of any given procedure explains which of these is being used.

-ectomy = cut something out
-plasty = reshape or remodel something
pexy = fix something in place (or -edisis, which is to scar two adjacent things so they stick together).
-stomy = join up of two hollow bits (because joining together non-hollow bits is basically a -pexy)

The rest of the operation name is the medical prefixes for whatever bits you are excising, shaping, fixing or joining. A few of the more common ones are below:

Ano- = The anus. Woop.
Appendo- = The appendix! Everyone has heard of an appendesectomy, no?*
Axilla- = the armpit
Cholecyst- = Gallbladder. A cyst is any fluid-filled cavity lined with [jargon] epithelial cells [/jargon]
Colo- = The colon, which technically includes any of the large intestines.
Duodeno- = A bit of the small intestine directly after the stomach
Endarte- = Complicated one made up of ‘endo’ and ‘artery’. Endo means within, so basically something in the artery.
Gastro- = The stomach
Ileo– = the ileum, which is most of the small intestines
Jejuno– = A smaller part of the small intestines, closer to the stomach
Lump- = Yup. You guessed right! Generally done in breast surgery.
Nephro- = Kidneys, normally just one of them!
Oophero– = Ovary stuff…
Orchido- = …and testicle stuff.
Peno- = Penis-related. Penectomy – the operation no man wants to have.
Pleuro- = The membranes between the lungs and the chest wall.
Pneumo– = The lungs themselves. A pneumonectomy is removal of one of the lungs, though, not both.
Recto- = To do with the rectum, which confusingly is a sub-part of the colon.
Sigmoid– = The sigmoid colon – an ‘s’ shaped piece of large intestine near the rectum.
Splen– = Spleeeeeeeeeeeen. They don’t really do anything to it bar removing it though.
Vesico– = To do with the bladder

Finally, there may be additional information about what the surgery is, or where it is taking place. This is usually either in the form of a place (like in a left carotid endarterectomy – it’s removal of stuff in the left carotid artery rather than any other one) or a division (like a right hemicolectomy – removing the right half of the large intestine). Things can be total or subtotal, left or right, laparoscopic (keyhole) or open.

Example, then quiz: a laparoscopic right hemicolectomy with ileostomy formation. If you break it down, you have a keyhole right-sided removal of half of the large intestine with a joining of the ileum to the outside (two spaces joined together). Ever wondered why a colostomy is called a colostomy? Now you don’t have to!

Quiz time! I mentioned at the start the Mitrofanoff procedure, which does actually have a technical name – a appendicovesicostomy. It results in a permanent small hole in the abdominal wall, but what is done in the surgery? What about an orchidopexy? Or a gastrojejunostomy? Chances are someone you know has had a laparoscopic cholecystectomy, at least. I don’t know if you managed to get those – either way, I hope I’ve shed a tiny glimmer of light on the confusing mass of terminology that is surgical procedure. It’s a vast field and there are many things I’ve not covered here, and there will be many things beyond that which I don’t know, and so on and so forth. I hope it’s not been too dry, and if it was, well…you didn’t HAVE to read all the way to here!

*for those of you smartypants who think it is called an appendectomy, don’t call it that in front of a British surgeon. It’s an Americanism, and hence is Evil.


6 responses to “Surgery, Explained!

  1. I can’t judge because I knew most of it already (though it’s mainly stop-and-think knowledge rather than tripping off my tongue) but no, not dry. Amusing, lighthearted, witty and accessible without being either patronising or irreverent (in the offensive sense). cheers πŸ™‚ xx

    • Posterior fusion. Orthopaedics doesn’t really conform well to these guidelines – lots of orthopaedic operations are ORIF – open reduction and internal fixation, meaning they make an incision, put the bone back in line, and then pin in there in some way (and there are many ways!). Others are mainly arthroplasty – arthro- being joint – involving reshaping and replacing bits of joints to make them work. In your case there is no neat name for it – closest I could get was a posterior fusion because the approach is posterior and the fusion is what you had done…

      • Couldn’t I call it a spinoplastyplexy? I like the sound of that….

    • Technically it’d only be a spinoplasty as you aren’t fixing it to anything but itself, but if you wanted a complicated name you could call it a posterior spinal fusion with rib autograft and fixation with Cotrel-Dubousset instumentation?

      • Yeah I like that πŸ˜‰ Never heard of Cotrel-Dubousset instrumentation…. I always thought they were called “Harrington rods” so you’ve taught me something πŸ™‚

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