Camptocormia

I learned this word yesterday.

It is also known as bent spine syndrome, which helpfully says what it is rather than having to translate from Greek to English to Jargon and back to English (it comes from kampto which means ‘to bend’ and kormos – ‘trunk’).

Explained this way, it all adds-up.

Many of us will have seen people with this condition – usually older, often the result of Parkinson’s disease, it has complex origins (that is, at the level of an individual’s spine and nervous system).

If you want to learn more, there is always Wikipedia.

My interest in this word was sparked by the use of a long-confusing (obfuscating?) term, clearly word-processed into an outpatient letter, in comparison to the other form of miscommunication/befuddlement that is far more common in medicine – bad, messy, scrawly and hard to interpret handwriting.

The classic doctor’s handwriting.

I have never understood why this is either a thing or a joke.

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‘Oh! doctor Foster’s handwriting, who knows?! Sigh, guffaw…’

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I know this is a complicated area – which has haunted me all my life; I remember being pulled-up for bad writing in primary school – ‘messy’ often written in the margins of my jotter.

Today, my handwriting, is, as far as I am aware mostly legible. (I can see some raised eyebrows amongst nursing colleagues :-))

Yes, there are on occasion words you can’t read and the intermittent problems when my ‘n or m’ looks like a ‘u’ and ‘h; like a ‘n’, (thinking of Community Mental Health Team folks…). On the whole I think people can read my writing – and this not by chance, I have worked on it; on pen holding position, and so on. (I have reduced my abbreviations since moving to Rotherham as I know ‘TiM’ or ‘PCC’ might not be readily apparent – yet).

Yet, there are many, doctors out there who don’t seem to think this way – indeed, I don’t know what they are thinking; some of the biggest culprits in my experience, tend to be surgeons – ophthalmologists frequently being the worst offenders, which, I have always found doubly ironic.

Beyond these forms of error are the bad-habits that until recently I had thought gone – the old chestnuts where everyone (I thought), knew that you write ’10 units of Insulin’ not ’10u’ which can be misread as 100 units, resulting in death or brain-damage, (I am not aware of this happening recently, although it has in the past), or the person prescribed ‘Amoxycilin’ for a sore throat, who received ‘Amitriptyline’ in error, which helped her mood no end, but did little for the quinsy.

There is book of poetry by Adrienne Rich ‘The Dream of a Common Language’ – if only we not only possessed a common language, but also used common means of communication – a sort of babel-fish that isn’t dependent on us waiting for a digital Messiah.

An answer, well, it is good and probably reasonable for neurologists and psychiatrists to pull out of the bag old-fashioned and obscure terminology – it keeps us on our toes – flocculation, allodynia and bradyphrenia, it helps us stay grounded in our past, and, there is always Google to do the translating, yet, we need to have some sort of standard of documentation.

How many people over the past 100 years have died or come to harm because a nurse  or pharmacist couldn’t read a doctor’s handwriting? How many patients, nurses, pharmacists and eventually doctors has this harmed?

I get-it, not everyone possesses the ability to write clearly, neatly, succinctly. There are disabilities, inabilities, weaknesses and lack of insight, yet, is this not something that should be challenged or questioned? At the very least, provided with more of an overview than shrug, ‘Let’s skip-over what that doctor has written, I can never read their handwriting’ – would you accept this if people didn’t obey the Highway Code and drove their cars at random? If our food regulation was chaotic ‘may or may not contain nuts and sea-food’ or, even our spoken language, ‘they might have said, ‘I love you’ or, it could have been, ‘I loathe you’, no matter.’

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