He Burned His Records

by | Apr 24, 2021

George Bernard Shaw said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion it has taken place.”

A doctor and a patient must communicate.  Here is the story of an interview where communication truly was an illusion.

 I was seeing a man I had seen intermittently for years with various problems that were solved by treatment or time, but from which he had recovered quite well.

Now he had a recurring problem that seemed to have begun when he was on active duty in the Marine Corps some years previously.

“Too bad we can’t see what your lab results were when you had these symptoms before”, I said.

“Yeah, well I burned my records before I got out, “ he replied.

Incredulous that some one would destroy his records by burning.  I told him I could not understand why anyone would burn his/her records and that now all that valuable information was lost.

He looked at me contemptuously, gathered up some papers he was carrying and stalked out of the exam room.  That afternoon a request to transfer the man’s records I had to another physician in town was received.

A couple days later I was recounting this story to another doctor in town. He laughed and explained the source of my ignorance.

“The Marine Corps used those old Xerox machines for years.  Remember how the old Xerox copies looked like the letters had been burned into the page?  It was common in the service for someone to have a report ‘burned’ when they were requesting a copy of something.  He was telling you he had copied his records and you thought he had set them on fire.”

On that visit communication was truly only an illusion.