BY VISHWAS HEATHCLIFF
Years ago, I heard about the awkward predicament of a young girl. She used to visit chemist shops frequently. No, she was not a patient of chronic diarrhoea; she was in a long-distance relationship with a doctor who used to write to her love letters thrice a week. Like most doctors, his handwriting was also illegible. It could not be read: it could only be deciphered.
Most doctors write illegibly and it’s extremely annoying. We have all experienced it. Forget about the names of the medicines, we can’t even figure out whether we have to pop the pill before waking up or after going to bed. Like a bunch of buffoons, we depend on the extraordinary ability of salesmen at medicine shops to understand what has been prescribed for us and how the drugs have to be administered on us. “Why can’t these buggers write clearly?” an exasperated chemist near my residence once muttered when I handed over to him a medical prescription. The query could indeed by categorised as a universal poser: Why don’t doctors write legibly? But I believe the more pertinent question here should be: Why do doctors write illegibly and what does it mean? We’ll try finding answers to this.
Last month, I came across a report about a Mumbai doctor who was lambasted by a court of law for preparing a medical report in illegible handwriting. Following the rap, she gave an undertaking in the court that she would try to improve her handwriting. (Read the report). It was a good precedent set by the court and I was savouring the news that morning. Even as I was reading the report, a friend called up and said, “Vish, why don’t you write on doctors’ illegible handwriting?”------------ Special Newsletter Reader Offer ------------
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“If I do, I will die unattended when I’m unwell. Because if by any chance the doctor who has read this happens to encounter me as a patient, he will look at me as if I were a dead body, not an ailing person,” I told the friend.
“Never mind. There are certainly a few doctors who write legibly and you can depend on them” she argued.
She was right. I decided to write on doctors who write illegibly. Here we go:
Handwriting experts across the world have established that consistent illegible handwriting is indicative of a subconscious inclination to be careless, negligent and sloppy towards the person for whom it has been written. Therefore, if a doctor writes illegibly for his patients, it means he is inconsiderate to the recipients of the prescriptions. It’s like an attitude imprinted on the paper, which could be roughly put into words in the following manner: “I don’t care whether you are able to read it or not; I don’t care whether you get well or not; I am sitting here doing my job the way I like, in my own style. How much you will be benefitted from my skills is your problem and I am not going to be least bothered about what happens to you after you leave this cabin. Just pay the fee to my assistant and get out…”
I know it sounds bizarre but that’s what illegible handwriting means. This attitude among some doctors emanates from the realisation of a power to effect changes in an individual’s physical existence. The power is extraordinary and very few can handle it with ease and without losing their sanity. And no doubt some doctors are as fallible as any other humans and they argue that they write illegibly because they are in haste and they have to attend to many patients. Now, I have a serious problem with this argument. It’s complete hogwash. We can prove it. On an average, a doctor does not write more than 40 words on a prescription. Let’s assume that they take about three minutes to write a prescription in illegible handwriting. But if they wrote legibly, maybe they would take four minutes. Right? The difference is just about 60 seconds. Doc, do you really want me to believe that you write illegibly because you are too busy to spare 60 seconds? Sorry, sir, give me another one. If you consistently write illegibly for your patients, it shows your carelessness and inconsideration.
Here is an example: the same friend who told me to write on doctors’ illegible handwriting shared with me that her grandfather, a doctor by profession, used to write illegibly while writing prescriptions, but he showed amazing clarity in handwriting when he wrote personal letters. Every time he wrote to his dear family members, he wanted to show his caring nature. And he used to show that through clarity in his handwriting. Do you see a clearer picture now? Haven’t all of us experienced that we become concerned about legibility while writing on greetings cards or love cards? Have you ever thought why? I’m sure you got your answer today: legibility, graphology says, is a subconscious way to show care. So, next time you receive a get-well-soon card with messages written in illegible handwriting, I’m sure you will know how to take it.
Docs, if your signature is as illegible as your handwriting, then I really do not know what to say. I’ll rather not get into that subject here, as I don’t want doctors to issue a fatwa against me and blacklist me as a patient. Illegible handwriting with illegible signature is a deadly combination. The patients of such doctors say: “My doctor gave me six months to live, but when I couldn’t pay the bill he gave me six months more.” Docs, no hard feelings. Now, please permit me to offer you a suggestion, docs. Please write legibly and you will discover a sudden drop in the number of notices against you for negligence.
By the way, guys, what do you think of the relationship between the doc and the girl who visited the chemist shop frequently? Do you think that guy loved her? I’m not telling you the answer. This one is easy. Go figure!
(Vishwas is a India-based writer who lives in Mumbai)
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