September 16, 2004

The Hand

Ever wonder why almost all doctors have terrible handwriting? It's especially evident in the way prescriptions are written. It's so bad that only the pharmacist can decipher it. By the way, how could Mercury Drug Store clerks ever understand those illegible scripts which even academicians might mistake it with Sanskrit or Mandarin?

It happened to me yesterday when it was so toxic (med lingo for being busy) that I assisted my consultant from 10am until 5pm without any lunch break. My feet were already tired and livid from standing up and going to and fro. Anyway, the doctor on hand assigned me to type a medical referral for a patient in waiting. She was blurting out paragraphs while my mind was merely latching just to some phrases of it. I am not sure if it was just me being slow in memorization or she was too fast in her instructions. To help me in typing it, she scribbled the important points to be included into the certificate. I tried recognizing the familiar letters but her handwriting was soooooo bad that it looked more terrible than the worst Arabic steno ever found. Anyway, I had to waste a long time deciphering it but fortunately, the staff in the rehab have already grown accustomed to her scratchy script that upon presenting the draft, they were able to comprehend and translate it for me. It was lost in translation, indeed! But seriously, it was really a pain trying to understand all the unintelligible squiggly lines and loop-d-loops.

It comes to the point where I began to reflect on the effects of being a doctor. Does this mean that being one, one is predisposed to develop "malgraphicus medicus"? It must be attributed to the tight and toxic schedule of a clinician whose mind works faster than his hand. So, in the effort to catch up the physician's train of thought, the hand has lost its ability to punctuate its sentences. But logically, who wants to have bad handwriting skills, huh? In fact, no one. It just so happens that physicians use their writing faculties mostly to write abbrevations, short cuts, orders, etc, and not wordy technical essays. All things must be brief, short and straight to the point.

Rationalization aside, the repercussions of having bad handwriting is huge. Columnist Michael Tan, said it plainly:
"The physician may have prescribed Losec, an anti-ulcer drug, but careless dispensing could mean Lasix being given to the patient, which makes a world of a difference because Lasix is a drug to induce urination."
A bad stroke can make a big difference- some deadly. That's why doctors take time to explain everything that's written on the prescription sheet, which he assumes that the patient understands the name of the drug.

So, on your next visit to the clinic. Be sure to check on the handwriting of your doctor. The worse it is, the better that doctor is, because it just means that there are more patients who come for consultation, which after the doctor has written countless amount of prescriptions, his handwriting is sure to deteriorate.

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