Fountain pens

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. Martin

    I don’t know why, but this post touched me deeply. I admire your for your humanity, thoughtfulness and ability to see the people that are the patients.

  2. Your decency and compassion are endearing, thousands of miles away, across time, theological differences and cyberspace. I salute you, Doctor!


  3. Lindata

    Thank you. For what you do and for telling us about it. Amid so much horror it is good hear of something so humane.

  4. Melissa G

    Wow. After a grim morning’s reading on the blogosphere, I was hoping for one piece of good news to cheer me up, and this post fit the bill! Thank you.

  5. James Gordon

    Well done. Ever consider teaching med school?

  6. themadlolscientist

    That is one of the most truly moving things I’ve read in a long time. Every doctor should be so wonderfully compassionate.

  7. There’s no good way to break the news to someone that their loved one is dead, but there are certainly better ways and worse ways.

    When my husband died, I really appreciated the doctor’s forthrightness about what was happening, so that I could be quickly prepared for what needed to happen. His organs were donated, and someone else got a second lease on life as a result.

    I agree that a lovely vintage fountain pen seems perfect for the followup letter. While I prefer my modern Stipula and Visconti pens, sometimes a vintage pen is the only thing that seems right.

  8. I went through a fountain pen stage in high school. I agree about the sentimental value of nothing but ink and point, though I ultimately gave them up as the ones I had were always intensely leaky and needed a wipedown every time I took the cap off. But let’s be honest — there’s no romance to a ten cent stick pen; I’d go so far as to say that they’re such inconsequential devices that probably no one has ever actually run out the ink supply in one before it got lost or broken.

    I had a chance not too long ago to grab a disposable fountain pen (Pilot makes them — they’re sort of like a liquid marker, but with the felt point replaced by a capillary channel to a fountain pen nib — interesting design). I’d used them before, but I’d failed to note that for disposable pens, they’re quite expensive. I gave it a pass and decided to wait till I had a bit more disposable income.

  9. Denise C

    Thank you for your work and your post. You are a kind and compassionate physician. I don’t know if I could survive the emotional roller coaster you must go through. God bless you in your work.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *