Views And Reviews

Subversive correspondence

BMJ 1994; 308 doi: (Published 12 February 1994) Cite this as: BMJ 1994;308:479
  1. D Curr

    The far right are plotting. As South Africa accelerates towards democracy, those who see their only hope in a separate white Afrikaner state are planning how to achieve it. Ifdemocracy cannot serve their ends, they must resort to sabotage. So they have drawn up their list of 98 forms of non-violent resistance, and thoughtfully let some details slip tothe press. Of course the list includes predictable items like “go slows” and strikes. “Random power cuts” will probably go unnoticed here in Ingwavuma. Civil servants “taking sick leave on days of crisis” will probably make things run a lot more smoothly. And will “non-payment of television licences” really bring the country grinding to a halt? But theirreal secret weapon sends a shiver up the spine: if they see defeat looming they will resort to “the sending of indecipherable correspondence to and from state departments.”

    Well, I can let you into a secret. Their campaign has already begun. And, judging from the letters we have been getting back from our tertiary referral hospitals, the medical profession is particularly infiltrated.

    “Thank you for referring this patient with an unusually severe skin rash. The diagnosis is clearly chronic multi...” multi what? The writer seems to have suddenly developed a coarse tremor, or perhaps been disturbed by a minor earthquake. The pen strokes look tantalisingly like real words. “Multisystem seborrhoea?” “Multispecies superinfection?” “Multisensitive sustenaculum?”

    “Multistorey supermarket?” suggests Sister, always helpful at times of crisis. I try holding the letter up to the window, putting it against the x ray light box, or turning itupside down and back to front. The mysteriously spotty patient is beginning to look increasingly disconcerted, and I'm not sure whether he is more concerned about my visual acuity or my sanity. But it's no good; from any angle the thing is illegible.

    Is dermatology really such a hotbed of fascist fervour? I never realised that these quietly spoken and classically educated doctors could harbour such devious political intent.But now I am beginning to see them in a different light; under those crisply starched white coats and perfect complexions they may be as malignant as their worst melanomas.

    But no more time to waste on pursuing this elusive diagnosis. If the letter's author hoped to disrupt our outpatients clinic, then I'm afraid he will be sorely disappointed. It will take more than a bit of illegible handwriting to bring Mosvold Hospital to its knees. We will press on and transcribe the recommended treatment on to the patient's prescription card. And thank goodness there's no problem reading that part of his letter: “Tinct. lin. albatross, apply three times yearly.” Let's see what the pharmacy makes of that.

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