to cath (redux)

Yesterday on ADS-L, Charlie Doyle reported a tv commercial for catheters beginning “End painful cathing” and noted some 343,000 raw ghits for cathing. I posted back in 2009 on a commercial with to cath in it, in which I treated cath as a clipping of catheterize ‘use a catheter’ (adding that both the full and the clipped version can be used transitively and intransitively). But there’s more to be said.

The commercials. From 2009:

[woman speaking]  I’m so tired of boiling every time I have to cath. (link to Flickr version)

And the current one, addressed to men:

End painful cathing and start using virtually pain free Cure catheters or the self lubricating Flo-Cath Quick offered by Liberator Medical Supply

Some viewers just hate these ads, no doubt because they’re (unavoidably) about catheters (and installing your own), though some are taken by the verb cath, as in this tweet:

“End Painful Cathing Today”By Show Of Hands Who Actually Knew That The Act Of Using A Catheter Is Called “Cathing” #CommercialSaidSo SMH (link)

Broad and narrow senses. In all of this so far, the noun catheter or cath refers to a tube inserted into the urethra and used to drain urine from the bladder — a urinary catheter (such as I will soon have for a day during my time getting a hip transplant at Stanford Hospital). This is a narrow sense of the word; there are many sorts of catheters in a broad sense:

In Medicine, a catheter /ˈkæθɪtər/ is a tube that can be inserted into a body cavity, duct, or vessel. Catheters thereby allow drainage, administration of fluids or gases, or access by surgical instruments. The process of inserting a catheter is catheterization. In most uses, a catheter is a thin, flexible tube (“soft” catheter), though in some uses, it is a larger, solid (“hard”) catheter. A catheter left inside the body, either temporarily or permanently, may be referred to as an indwelling catheter. A permanently inserted catheter may be referred to as a permcath (originally a trademark). (link)

Here we see an incredibly common type of ambiguity, between an expression used both for a large category and also for a subcategory of particular salience.

The route to cath, the verb. In my 2009 posting I assumed that the verb cath was clipped directly from the longer verb catheterize, and this is certainly possible. But on ADS-L, Larry Horn suggested a historical route in two stages: a clipping of the noun catheter to cath, and then the verbing of this clipped noun. Larry wrote that

it’s equally likely that the verb is a zero-formation from the nominal “cath”.  I’ve had one in my chest for 10 years and it’s a “portacath”, or alternatively “port” or “cath” for short.  Google turns up examples of “cath lab”, “cath procedure”, etc., although most of the occurences of “cath” do fetch “port-a-cath”.

A portacath or portcath, or just cath, or just port = mediport (medical or medicine + port(al)) is a small medical appliance installed just under the skin (usually in the chest); IVs can then be attached to it. The terms might originate in brand names, but the details of the history are hard to work out from the evidence of usage. From Wikipedia:

In medicine, a port (or portacath) is a small medical appliance that is installed beneath the skin. A catheter connects the port to a vein. Under the skin, the port has a septum through which drugs can be injected and blood samples can be drawn many times, usually with less discomfort for the patient than a more typical “needle stick”.

Ports are used mostly to treat hematology and oncology patients, but recently ports have been adapted also for hemodialysis patients.

The port is usually inserted in the upper chest, just below the clavicle or collar bone, leaving the patient’s hands free.

… The term portacath is a portmanteau of “portal” and “catheter”. Port-a-Cath is a brand name of Smiths Medical; others include SmartPort, Microport, Bardport, PowerPort (power injectable), Passport, Infuse-a-Port, Medi-Port, and Lifesite (for hemodialysis patients).

In any event, at least two types of catheters are sometimes referred to as caths, and installing them or using them is sometimes referred to as cathing. These usages don’t seem to have made it into dictionaries yet (though they have the obvious virtue of brevity — over catheters and catheterization, respectively).


One Response to “to cath (redux)”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    From Sissy SoFunk on ADS-L on the 4th:

    I’ve been doing healthcare in Canada for 14 years, and “cathing” has always been the norm in the places I’ve worked. Even in professional manuals, they would usually use “catheterizing” in the formal introduction to procedures, but “cathing” for employee guidelines. I doubt I came across more than 15% of staff who would use anything else, and even then it would be split betweeen “catheterizing” and “cathetering”. I worked in home-based health support, which is less formal than hospital settings, but when I was working with clients in-hospital the doctors and nurses would generally use “cath”, “cathed”, and “cathing” when we were talking informally.

    So it seems that medical staff use cath amongst themselves. Probably patients who use catheters regularly have learned the in-usage themselves.

Leave a Reply