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‘Patient dead’

Six twenty-five in the evening. Never a great time for a new and urgent message to flash up on the day duty screen. Eek. The trainee and I look at each other in horror. ‘Miss X: patient dead’.

Blimey. Miss X may be a young, brittle asthmatic well known to us and the hospital. But she is most certainly not an expected death. This is awful.

There follows an impromptu micro-tutorial on death in the community to placate an understandably unnerved trainee. After 15 minutes, and some paper-bag re-breathing, he’s good to go. We flick back to the screen, to check for more details. ‘Patient dead’. Terrible. But no more information. The brevity of the message somehow heightens its chilling impact.

Hang on, though. We both take a closer look. We squint at the screen. And then we fall off our chairs. Because this is what we read: ‘Miss X: patient deaf’.

Moments later there’s an apologetic phone-call from one of the receptionists about how having to talk loudly to a patient with ‘urgent’ ear-wax had flustered her. And how ‘d’ is so close to ‘f’ on the keyboard. And how, as we may have noticed, she has corrected her error. Sorry and all that.

As typos go, this is pretty spectacular. Bettered only, I think, some years ago when the word ‘ferritin’ was mangled by a hospital secretary, resulting in the following sentence in a hospital outpatient letter: ‘We are still concerned that this lady may have some colonic pathology, so we are going to send a ferret in.’

So trainee and I collapse in relief and amusement. My, how we laugh. But don’t worry, the patient can’t hear.

Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex. You can follow him on Twitter @DocCopperfield.