I’m a paralegal right now. I read a lot of medical records. Most operative notes start off with “the patient was given a routine consent, identified, given preoperative antibiotics, and prepped and draped in the usual fashion..” This is almost always followed by two pages of terminology and procedure notes that I don’t care to understand and is almost always concluded with “the patient tolerated this well” and then a line about what the follow up will be.
It always baffles me and I wonder …why? Why do they need to say these things like this in every operative note? It probably all started with a mess up. Most redundant, ass-covering phrases usually spawn from some tiny little mistake and are repeated for eternity to prevent future lawsuits over vague procedural assumptions. Most likely a patient died when a doctor did everything right but forgot to say that he had done everything right. While probably an act of God, the family’s need to grasp at whatever explanation they could, blamed the doctor. Perhaps, he simply forgot to write it down and so a procedure was implemented for all surgeons forever.
Regardless of how it happened, it annoys me every time I read it…and i read it a lot. It’s not just the repetition by so many surgeons, it’s the wording– because for some reason it reminds me of the beginning of a story. “Prepped and draped in the usual fashion” conjures an image of a dusty, old, brown, leather book with a gold etched title. I spend a good five minutes scrolling the records distracted by a black, rubber cape, crazy white hair on a desperate doctor, the dim basement light and the faded gold title “Frankenstein.” Every time…
As for the conclusion of every report, I’ve never read the words “tolerated this well” in anything other than a snooty English accent. The woman who says it may be referring to her husband’s pill regiment over a martini and a long stemmed cigarette and the old, balding man who says it is referring to his mistress’s reaction during penetration. The scenarios varies…but it’s always haughty and British. “She tolerated it well…”
Perhaps it really annoys me because it seems out of context and sort of poser-ish. These are doctors….in 2015. They should be using words like magnetic, sonar, laser… I don’t want to understand what they’re talking about at all! They’re performing surgery on someone. This should be way over my head. I don’t want to be connected to it on any level. And maybe it really annoys me because those short phrases take me to a place that my profession doesn’t encourage or allow me to go. I feel like I’m starting the same 19th century novel over and over again. I’m immediately transported to a time, to a character, to a place. I see through fog on an eerie night and deserted, cobblestone street. I walk away from the sound of people laughing and music coming from the pub on the corner. My mind wanders down the road, through the door and into the basement to watch a doctor work away at his monster. But I’m not supposed to do that here and I don’t like the conflict that ensues. I’m not good at focusing on the actual record and I’m supposed to be. I’m lost in a story that has nothing to do with forty hours of my week and I hate that I’ll be so drained from the argument I have with myself that i will go home and not finish the story I started while reading these lines.
I took this job because I thought I would feel better about myself. I had somehow been thought worthy of an honorable profession. I thought it was a smart move for a girl with two kids and two unfinished degrees. I thought relieving my parents of the worry that comes along with a profession-less daughter (and mother) would make me feel accomplished. I’ve been doing this for five years and every time I read those redundant lines, I wonder…and then wander. I start to write and then I have to dislike myself for it. I have to shake my head and compose an email with redundant phrases my own profession has created for me: “please find enclosed”…the remnants of my hopes and dreams. I have conformed in so many ways. My writing has slowed to such a pace that WordPress is alerting me that a “total of ten people” like my blog. I hardly care anymore. I have bills and kids who have homework and where do these lines fall in all of that. Perhaps I dislike those redundant phrases because they start a story I have yet to finish.
But maybe my story begins here. Maybe they were written by a doctor who really wanted to be a writer and he inserted those lines into a now standard document that is generated in all doctors’ operative reports. Maybe it was his little joke. And maybe there’s a story to tell about his little joke and how after reading it for five years, it changed an aspiring writer-turned mother, turned widow, turned paralegal’s life.
Tomorrow when I read the beginning of an operative report, I’m going think to myself that “I have been prepped and draped and I am NOT tolerating it well” …. in a very American, very strong, possibly 1950’s journalist accent.