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Wood on Words: Medical crisis leads to vocabulary lesson

Barry Wood

I took last week off from my column, blog and other duties, although not by choice. Exactly one week after attending graveside services for a former co-worker, I was in the emergency room at Rockford Memorial Hospital.

Over the next two days I gained a fuller understanding and greater appreciation of such terms as “EKG,” “angiogram,” “stent,” “grateful” and “lucky.”

An “EKG,” of course, is an “electrocardiogram” (the “K” comes from the German spelling “elektrokardiogramm”). These “pictures” of the variations in electric force in my circulatory system told the ER attendants that I was relatively stable and didn’t require immediate action.

The next morning, I took a stress test on a treadmill. I knew I was out of shape and that something else wasn’t right, but what my body did during that test was unnerving.

Unfortunately, the results were inconclusive, so on we went to the “angiogram.” This is an X-ray picture made by inserting a tube through the groin and injecting dye in an artery.

The angiogram showed a blockage in a cardiac artery. The blockage was cleared, and a “stent” was put in to keep the artery open.

There are several types of stents used in surgery. The device is named for Charles R. Stent, a British dentist who, according to Webster’s, “invented a substance later used to make molds for holding skin grafts in place.”

“Stent” (rhymes with “dent”) should not be confused with “stint” (rhymes with “mint”), which actually is opposite in meaning. My stent is keeping the blood flowing. A “stint,” from the Middle English “stinten” for “to cease, stop,” is a restriction or limit.

A stint also can be “an assigned task or quantity of work” or “a specified period of time spent doing something.” My time in the hospital having a stent put in was a stint well spent.

Now I’m back at work, doing rehab, on the mend and mending my ways. And my family and I are extremely “grateful” — for the knowledge and skill of all the medical personnel we dealt with and to family, friends and co-workers for covering for us and sending kind words and offers of help.

So what is this “grate” that we’re full of? It’s an obsolete word for “pleasing,” from the Latin “gratus” — the same word that’s the origin of “grace.”

The origin of “luck,” however, is uncertain. Its immediate ancestor is the Middle English “lucke.” What preceded that is speculation.

But the important thing about luck is not where it came from but having it at the right time. Of course, there’s good luck and bad luck, but we were lucky, which is associated with the good kind.

Barry Wood is a Register Star copy editor. Contact him at bwood@rrstar.com or read his blog at blogs.e-rockford.com/woodonwords/.