In the Stacks

At the hospital there are two big rooms (they’re called the Sheds because they have corrugated iron roofs and no windows) where all the files are kept, or at least all the files which are not strewn around the floors and desks of the hospital offices. Every patient who has been seen at the hospital in the last thirty years has at least one file and many have more. I was staggered to hear that despite all the notes being typed and saved onto a central database, we’re still required to print them out in duplicate and file them. At a conservative estimate there are probably three million files.

Anyway, wanton waste of resources is not my point. This afternoon I went to help my mum with her filing backlog. The previous receptionist in her department never bothered filing the forms which arrived on her desk in their dozens each day, so there is four years’ worth of filing to be done. Between us we managed to get through the papers for people whose surnames begin with B. She estimates it will probably take between one and two years for her to get it all done.

When I wasn’t filing in the library-stacks style shed, I was typing up clinic notes from a hand clinic two weeks ago. Everywhere in the hospital is chronically understaffed but it seems as though the hand department is one of the worst so I volunteered to go in and help them out a bit. In the end I took the files back to the spines department because I have a desk and a computer there, and someone to keep an eye on me since I’m not allowed to be left alone with confidential information. I guess receiving a pay slip makes you suddenly trustworthy or something.

I learnt lots of new words: Tinel’s and Phanel’s tests, ulnar nerve, duodenal ulcer, and many more which I had to write down and can’t remember any more. It’s given me fresh respect for medical students, because there are so many words. Law has lots of words too but they are words like “theft” and “assault”. They are not words like interphalangal articulations.

I had ten patients’ notes to type up from dictation and by the end I had discovered the correct spellings of lots of words which I had got wrong in the first ones, so I had to go back and correct them. Then I checked them all at least three times and filled in the blanks where I hadn’t heard properly, and then had to go back and change the signatories because I had misunderstood who was dictating, and then I had to go through them all with my manager and print them out. There was a lot of flicking through medical dictionaries, rewinding over and over again, turning the speed dial right down so the doctor sounded like a cartoon bulldog, guessing wildly and falling onto the desk in despair. In total it took about five hours. I can see why they’re falling behind – they have twenty-five clinics a day.

Tomorrow I’ll finish up printing all the copies out – one for the patient, one for the file, one for the GP and quite often one for the specialist, along with a referral letter. Then I’ll put them all into envelopes, which involves intricate folding to ensure that the address is visible through the window but confidential information is not, and take the whole lot back to the hand clinic. At which point they’ll give me another batch and the whole thing will start all over again.

At the weekend my mum’s mum and stepdad are coming to visit, so I think we’re going off to local visitors’ attractions like a field of particularly woolly sheep, or a hill with lots of grass (there aren’t many visitors’ attractions round here). On Friday night I’m trying out for the local church choir and hopefully on Sunday I’ll be singing in it.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, my CRB check came back. That is, the forms came back. They had a problem with my “Previous Addresses” section: the address in Paris was missing an answer in the box labelled “UK Postcode”.

Sometimes I despair.


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