What A Pen Can Do

Doctors love pens.  You wouldn’t be too far afield to say we worship them.

Every few weeks, 3rd year residents like me take over as “chief” of the medicine service in the hospital for a full 7 days.  The transition is dramatic.  Our former lives prior to chief look almost quaint and idyllic compared to the intensity and workload of those weeks.

So, with a chief week approaching, you can imagine my heavy-heartedness this past weekend knowing that Monday morning at 6am would mark another 7 days of suffering probably on a level similar to licking the entire circumference of a New York city block.

It isn’t that I don’t like chief, by the way.  In fact, I like inpatient medicine more than most rotations in residency.  It’s just so much harder that there’s an emotional hurdle to get over as the new week approaches.

But what, you’re probably asking, does this have to do with pens? Simple. To combat the downer vibes, I did what any self-respecting doctor would do…I bought a pen.

Keep in mind that doctors love pens, but not just any pen.  We have all these specific, detailed, exact standards for the perfect pen.  And most of us believe that although our current pen is the world’s greatest…there’s always the possibility that yet a more perfect union of writing instrument materials does exist.

Given that pens are relatively cheap, I don’t even chastize myself for constantly striving for a better and more perfect tool of locution.  The grass is always greener, and when it comes to pens, that’s damn right.  I’m sure of it.

Hmmm. You're real nice and all...
Hmmm. You're real nice and all...

Typically, I use Zebra pens.  It’s something of a dysfunctional but torrid love affair, really.  I wander away, pursuing the curviest, the silkiest.  You know the ones, the sultry models with squishy midsections that caress the writing surfaces of your hands.  Or the ones with multiple colors that reveal themselves on demand.  Hot, those pens.  HOT!

But the passion fades.  *sigh*  Not unlike teenage angst, eventually I return – humbled, learned, schooled – to my old favorite.  The Zebra.  Specifically the model F-301.  Been using them for years.  Machined brushed aluminum barrels with textured plastic gripping surface and crafted with a satisfying *click* (that I fired repeatedly through one of my interviews to land this residency, for example), these pens rule the universe of analogue human communication.

So, to psych myself up for another week of strife and toil, I went to my local office supply store to pick up a couple of old friends to add to my collection (I’m pretty much always running low on them, you see).

But what to my sharp eyes did appear…but a NEW pen.  A NEW model, shiny and sleek, perched in it’s own display container next to the plebian F-301’s.

Yes, I’ll admit that in reaching for Old Faithful, I did give certain liberties to my wandering eyes (we have an “open” relationship, ok?).  And YES!  Maybe I’d found the perfect machine to compliment, to fulfill the untapped potential of my opposable thumb!  Perhaps there, in that shiny bubble-plasto case, lay the final answer to all human evolution.

Oooo!  White.  Like clouds.  Or Mist! Or Sunlight!
Oooo! White. Like clouds. Or Mist! Or Sunlight!

The good news is that the pen is also a Zebra, so I’m not really defecting.  Not cheating.  All in the family, right?  THIS is the F-701, and WOW what a testament to human ingenuity and engineering.  Walk into the middle of the Crimean Wars and raise this baby, flashing brilliantly in the sun, and every knee would bow amid the clatter of dropped weaponry!

Important to keep in mind, however, is the subtle motivational trick I was actually playing on myself – a new pen requires WORK!  I need to have reason to write with my maybe-perfect baton of neurophysiological realization.  The Cartesian dilemma, few knew, was badly mis-translated.  In reality, it reads, “I think, I write with my Zebra, therefore, I am!”

Given all the new power I’d just bought, settled in the crook of my thumb, “snug as a gun” as Seamus Heany says, I went from dreading my early Monday at work to barely able to sleep in anticipation of it.  I had a new pen.  Maybe the best pen ever created, maybe crafted by God himself…all I needed now was piles of patient charts, sheaves of unsigned orders and dozens of new prescriptions.

C’mon Monday morning!  Let’s start at 5!

I can report after one day that the pen is living up to it’s billing.  The barrel has scoring on it to create texture at the writing surface.  It comes equipped with a “soft” clicking mechanism – so very Hamptons, so Riveria!

In the end, let me say simply that pens can change the life of a doctor.  THIS doctor, at any rate.  Incidentally, I’m such a fan of Zebra that I wrote them and tried get them to “sponsor” me.  I offered to put a patch on my white coat and to carry around sample pens.  Hey, I figured I’d be around pen-worshippers all day, I’m a GREAT agent of marketing.  I added that I could even be talked into sewing black zebra-stripes into my doctor’s coat.  EVERYTHING’S got a price, right?  Didn’t we all learn that from “Indecent Proposal”?

They turned me down flat.  Actually, they didn’t turn me down at all.  They just never responded.  And what did I ask for?  What was my requested payment?  A lifetime supply of Zebra pens, of course.  What more could a doctor want?