White Coat Underground

Fountain Pens

On July 4th at 5 a.m., I’m loading the family into the car and driving very far away, where cellphones, pagers, and most critically the internet, do not work. Blogging has been very hard for me lately. I love writing, but due to work and family mishegos it’s been hard to keep up with the posting. I’m hoping a stint up in the woods providing medical supervision to 400 souls will be rejuvenating. While I’m gone, I’ll leave you with some of my favorite posts about the human side of medicine. I hope you enjoy reading them again, or for the first time. –PalMD

I love fountain pens, but I’m far to busy for the regular ritual of cleaning, filling, etc. Most of my day is spent scrawling notes or typing on a keyboard. But there is one task for which only a fountain pen will do.

I’ve lost a number of patients lately. Most were in hospice, all were elderly, but it’s always tough. I take care of my patients until they die, including hospice care, so I often get to follow them on the journey from health to death. Sometimes, great debility and dementia is a step on that journey. I’ve taken to writing short notes to the spouse of the deceased, to acknowledge the death, let them know I’m available, and remind them that I knew the patient on a personal level and appreciate the loss of a person, rather than just a patient.

I just can’t type a letter like that, and using some plastic throw-away pen doesn’t seem appropriate. I take a nice piece of office stationary, dip my pen, and write. After signing the letter, I turn it and blot it on another sheet.

The subtle smears that are left by my mediocre penmanship create a clearly personal document, separating it from a generic communication.

There really aren’t many more important tasks. I don’t mind brushing off my quirky 1957 Pelican once in a while. One must always use the proper tool for the occasion. While a patient lives, a stethoscope, clean hands, and a penlight are indispensable. After they are gone, only a fountain pen will do.


  1. #1 Comrade PhysioProf
    July 5, 2009

    I love fountain pens, too! You know Pilot makes excellent disposable ones, right?


    They’re not as soothing to write with as a gold nib Waterman, but they are quite good.

  2. #2 Glendon Mellow
    July 5, 2009

    Strong stuff, man.

  3. #3 Noadi
    July 5, 2009

    You just made me cry a little bit. It’s not the pen that really matters, but that you care so much to make sure you do things right for your patients even when they’re gone.

  4. #4 Isis the Scientist
    July 6, 2009

    Beautiful, Pal. Enjoy the opportunity to rest and repose. You deserve it, my friend.

  5. #5 Prozac
    July 6, 2009

    I agree completely. I’ve found fountain pens to be too useful for too many occasions. The right tool for the right time, no matter how sad the time to use those tools may be.

  6. #6 antipodean
    July 6, 2009

    Jeez, you’re a good guy PAL.

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