It was only natural that in a large urban radiation therapy department, such as the one where I did my residency, the residents often turned to black humor in order to escape from the realities of death and dying that we were witnessing. Despite one of my attending’s iron clad rules—“Never treat a patient on his last day of life”—occasionally a patient would indeed expire right in the department. Once the relatives were consoled, and the gurney and body departed, inevitably one of the students or residents would feel compelled to add a new euphemism to the secret list we kept hidden in our cubicles. And so the list grew over the years we trained there.
There were always the “good old boy” standbys—he “bought the farm”, “kicked the bucket”, “cashed in his chips”, “bit the dust”, “gave up the ghost”—and of course the simple but expressive “he croaked.” And then there were a few with more sensitive connotations—she is “pushing up daisies”, “took a little slumber”, went “six feet under”, “played harps with the angels” and “shed the mortal coil.” Not to mention the vaguely piscine morsels, such as he “went to Davy Jones’ locker”, and is now “sleeping with the fishes”. Depending upon occupation, cowboys always “went to the last round up” and hunters to that “happy hunting ground.” Little did we know that we had already been trumped long before when Monty Python did the “Dead Parrot Sketch”, introducing the inimitable “pining for the fjords”, and “rung down the curtain and joined the invisible choir.”
By the time I got to California, I thought that I had heard them all. In my new department I had a licensed vocational nurse who was responsible for taking vital signs and putting the patients in rooms on our on treatment visit days. Every couple of weeks, I’d come in on a Monday and a patient would be missing from the schedule. I’d ask our nurse, “Where is Mrs. So and So?” And she would say, “She went to Texas.” After the first couple of months at my new job, and the third or fourth time our nurse said, “He went to Texas”, I finally got exasperated. I said, “PLEASE tell me why all of these patients are moving to Texas!” The room was silent, all eyes on me.
Apparently there are significant regional differences as to how one expresses that a patient has “passed on”. What do they say in your neck of the woods?