When House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) was shot in the hip Wednesday after a gunman opened fire on Republican congressmen at a baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia, the hospital that treated him released a report saying the “bullet travelled across his pelvis, fracturing bones, injuring internal organs, and causing severe bleeding.”
Scalise underwent immediate surgery and received a blood transfusion. The hospital said in a statement on Thursday that the Congressman underwent additional surgery that day. His condition had improved, but remained critical.
Matt Mika, a former congressional staffer and director of government relations for Tyson Foods’ Washington, D.C., office, was shot twice in the chest. His condition was also marked as “critical” and later changed to “serious.”
But what do those conditions mean, exactly?
For starters, those patient conditions are doctor shorthand, used primarily for medical professionals to convey information about a patient’s general health status to relatives or the news media, while complying with patient medical information privacy laws.
The American Hospital Association recommends using the following one-word descriptions of patient’s general condition:
Undetermined: Patient awaiting physician assessment.
Good: Vital signs are stable and within normal limits. Patient is conscious and comfortable. Indicators are excellent.
Fair: Vital signs are stable and within normal limits. Patient is conscious but may be uncomfortable. Indicators are favorable.
Serious: Vital signs may be unstable and not within normal limits. Patient is acutely ill. Indicators are questionable.
Critical: Vital signs are unstable and not within normal limits. Patient may be unconscious. Indicators are unfavorable.
Still, Dr. Renee Hsia, director of health policy studies at University of California, San Francisco, said not to overthink the two more urgent descriptions.
“I wouldn’t read too much into the differences between ‘critical’ and ‘serious’” she told HuffPost.
“Many physicians who use that are not necessarily trying to distinguish between one or the other.”