Wednesday, December 9, 2015


The other day I got a call from my doctor.  It might seem strange that I, as a doctor, have a doctor.  But it's actually a really good idea.  As I like to say to people who are easily confused, "The barber cuts the hair of everyone in town who doesn't cut their own hair. Who cuts the barber's hair?"  If the barber cuts his own hair, then he doesn't cut his own hair, then he does cut his own hair, ad infinitum.
Obviously, the barber lives in the next town over and travels to a third town to have his hair cut by a barber friend of his who is completely hairless, and he also owns one of those creepy hypoallergenic cats that feel like they are made of scrotums.  So it makes sense for me to have a doctor because that way I have two doctors looking after me.  But that's not what I'm here to talk about.

So my doctor called me, and asked me to come in because my latest cholesterol test was abnormal.  Now this was a surprise because I had already checked my result through the simple expedient of many years ago romancing and marrying a person who had ambitions to be a doctor themselves (not a barber - and thus making a third doctor who is looking after me) and asking them to look up my results, and so I knew that my results were completely normal.

Nevertheless, I dutifully went to my GP. I sat down in the consulting room and she told me that she wanted to see me because my cholesterol had suddenly and unexpectedly increased to a dangerous level.  I expressed my surprise at this, and she pointed to the computer screen where the pathology results were displayed in serial form:
Total cholesterol
7.8    7.2    4.8
and at that point, she said in a horrified voice - "Wait, I think I was looking at the wrong one.  4.9 is the most recent one isn't it? Since you started the statin."

What she had done was assume the results were listed from newest to oldest rather than oldest to newest.  On the face of it, this seems pretty dopey, especially as each column has the date printed at the top.

But it's actually an easy mistake to make, as that is indeed the way that some pathology companies list their data so she would have been used to just looking at the leftmost column, whereas I am used to the one I am familiar with from work, which does it the logical way.

I say logical because we read from left to right, so it makes sense for new data to be added to the right of the old data.  You may accuse me of cultural imperialism, but if you usually read my blog from right to left, esnes ekam t'nod sekoj ym rednow on s'ti.

In fact, I have made the same mistake in the past, but in reverse.  I was working in ED and got a different company to fax me some old results.  I read them the wrong way around and rushed off to try to figure out why the person's blood tests just made no sense at all.  How embarrassing.

But not as embarrassing as the time I checked a patient's blood test results, which gave a reading of 55378008 ng/L, but I had glanced at the paper upside down, so unfortunately broke the news to the patient that they were boobless.


Anonymous said...

Dear PTR,

The New Yorker [TM] is stealing your material.

PTR said...

Perhaps not so much "stealing" as "executing a similar concept in a vastly superior manner". Similar to how Shaquille O'Neal stole my moves on the basketball court.