I am a magpie. If it is shiny, gadgety, or streamlines some function that I didn’t even know was difficult I must own it (I have a hard time keeping track of my money, as you may imagine). Despite this, I have never seen the point in shiny shiny pens, especially as in hospital pens go missing or break on a daily basis. I have several times found myself writing with a pen that not only isn’t the pen I started the day with, but isn’t even one I’ve seen before and one I have no recollection of acquiring. It is a weird feeling to be that unaware of your surroundings that you don’t even notice what you’re holding in your hand.
Prior to a fortnight ago the nicest pen I’ve ever owned was a Parker fountain pen in school and since starting doctoring (or even university) it was a luxury to write with something that wasn’t a cheap biro. I contemplated getting a nice pen once, maybe when I started F1 or graduated or something, but figured: why get something nice when it’ll probably just disappear?
Enter Kickstarter. In browsing around I wound up backing a pen called the Alpha pen; it was shiny, I liked the pitch, and I crumbled under pressure. It is solid aluminium, has a screw-cap (how impractical!) and takes Mont Blanc refills (which are surprisingly inexpensive considering, although obviously not as cheap as Bic biros). It was made by a machinist best-known for making LED lights over the the US who was branching out, and I plumbed for the early bird aluminium version. It looks amazing and has a pleasant heft in the hand, and has a metal clip that feels like it will last until the end of the world. This is good because I am a fidget and usually break the clip off a pen within 24 hours. I’ve been writing with this pen for weeks and the clip isn’t a millimetre out of place. The only improvement I’d make to this pen is to have one in copper – bug-killing bacteriotoxic copper would be a hit with infection control and lets face it, copper is just so damn shiny.
I write nearly all day. The image of doctors portrayed by TV is dramatic and all and although there are difficult moments the single most time-consuming aspect of my day-to-day life is writing. I write prescriptions, clerkings, histories, blood results, ward round entries, investigation requests, on-call reviews and more, every hour of every day. When I see a new patient I spend 15 minutes talking to them/examining them and then half an hour writing drug charts, admission documents and X-ray requests. Why was I doing this with a piece of crap pen when I could be enjoying the experience a lot more with a better one?
I took the Alpha pen to work, and it was (is!) great. Every time I write something, I notice the pen and the difference it makes. My handwriting is still doctor-poor; it’s not faster or more readable (although the jet-black ink does look more awesome and, as a bonus, photocopies my unreadable handwriting fantastically), but the experience of writing is transformed for the better. I even love the screw-cap I feared would be this pens undoing (ha) – there is a pleasant intent to it, a purposeful “and now, I shall write!” It feels like a second-long ceremony every time you put pen to paper and every time you finish up. It has changed my perspective on writing essays of text in the notes to a positive experience rather than a trial to be overcome.
The idea that a pen is a refill (cheap) and a holder (expensive) is a good one to keep in mind. The Mont Blanc Fineliner refill this pen takes is smooth as butter and is a quality piece of kit – the Mont Blanc pens I’m sure are equally lovely but cost the earth. Writing with a nice pen might be transformative but it’s not worth remortgaging your house.
I don’t think I will ever go back to normal pens at work. The Alpha pen has changed my outlook on that completely, and I’ve gone from being a pen cynic to a convert in the space of a fortnight. My fear of losing it has been mitigated by the fact that I notice when I write with it. The screw cap ceremony reminds me to pocket it when I am done rather than leaving it in the notes or on the desk or just blanking it so it vanishes. Environmentally, I don’t know if refills are less wasteful than the avalanche of pens I used to get through – probably, although the best scenario is to go to something that just takes liquid ink and therefore has minimal wasted materials. Who knows?
Bottom line: I have never really appreciated pens and now I can’t understand why I didn’t.. My experience of writing is changed, my job is improved, and all down to a single length of aluminium and some ink. Write a lot? Give it some thought.
Credit for all images to Prometheus Lights