The No word

As you are probably fed up of reading I write for a living now and, as a rule, I get paid if my clients are pleased with the words I deliver for them. Unsurprisingly the reverse is true too, of course. So I try and get things right and ensure, as far as possible, that the client is pleased with the outcome. It’s the best way to put beans on the table I find.

Now with all our recent gallivanting around I overlooked to tell you about some words that I’d received following the visit to my oncologist back in May which I wrote about under the post entitled Interesting Day. I’m very fond of my oncologist for what she did for me but I actually saw her male registrar that day as she was busy with some more serious cases (and I’d met with them in the clinic – very desperate).  You accept this situation readily in cancer wards and whilst I was disappointed to miss her, I was delighted to learn that he was very pleased with my tests and markers which suggested that my cancer was still at bay. The last thing he did was to give me a physical examination but if you remember I came out under the distinct impression that I had been given a 6 month clean health pass. Happy days.

Now it was a couple of weeks later that the letter came through from the doctor addressed to my GP but cc’d to me, confirming the outcome of our meeting. I scanned the first few sentences and it all read pretty well from my perspective, except that I took issue with the neuropathy not affecting my ADLs (activities of daily living) because the lack of sensation in my feet and hands now, damaged by the chemo drugs, does significantly hinder my ability to walk around and drive especially. But I could ask for clarification on that I thought, no problem. No I was OK with it until I got to the penultimate sentence. I had to re-read it to make sure I got the sense correctly….


I think I had it – he’d examined me and he thought there was clear evidence that my cancer had returned. What? It didn’t seem to tally with the rest of the detail in the letter but it did seem fairly specific. There wasn’t just a little hint that my cancer had returned, there was palpable frigging evidence for christ’s sake. It could be a mistake but if it was, it’s a bit of a freaking lulu. Because by this stage I was just a little bit anxious and thinking of taking up smoking after 40 years. And if it wasn’t a mistake, well what the hell was he doing not calling me in for more emergency surgery?

And, of course, the post had plopped through my letter box on a Saturday morning and so I couldn’t contact the doctor nor my oncologist until the Monday following. You’ll appreciate that it was a troubling week-end.

I called my oncologist’s secretary first thing on Monday and, after 48 hours reflecting on life and what might be left of it, I wasn’t in the happiest of moods. My oncologist was actually returning from holiday later that day and thus uncontactable but the secretary promised to dig out the voice recording of the doctor’s notes and double-check the actual words. She did that and called back half an hour later to confirm that in his dictation he’d actually said that ‘there was no palpable evidence of recurrence’. They’d just made a typing error of omitting one word unfortunately. Yes I said and although it was just two little letters, it was still quite a significant typo. I mean it wasn’t like they’d just got the date wrong; this was the difference between being told I had cancer and not having cancer! And to me this was quite important. I added that whilst she’d probably been enjoying a bbq and shopping at M&S over the week-end, I’d been whistling a happy tune whilst half-consumed with the notion that the sodding disease might have come back with a vengeance and in the two week since the appointment had probably torn its way through what was left of my colon, bowel and intestines.  I may have added a few unfortunate old-fashioned words in my comments too.

She was actually incredibly nice and apologetic and I was relieved to hear it was a mistake of course. Nevertheless, I explained that I still needed to speak to my oncologist about the issue, even though it might mean the secretary herself getting a rollicking as the person who actually typed the letter. My oncologist called me first thing the next morning and we had another of our full and frank conversations. The upshot was that a letter of clarification was issued and after accepting her apology on behalf of her staff (and she made it clear that regardless of who types it no letter is allowed to go out until the doctor concerned had personally checked it for accuracy) she promised that, whatever the pressures,  I would only ever be seen by her in the future. And not by her dickshit registrar (the adjective might be mine). Good.

So I guess the lesson is that no really does mean no, except when it means…palpable.



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