Recently I was asked if I had read “The Well-Tempered Sentence: A Punctuation Handbook for the Innocent, the Eager and Doomed” by Karen Elizabeth Gordon.
I confessed that I often ignore the rules of punctuation. My penchant is for the ellipsis, which has been described in academic circles as “those three small dots said to be superfluous” and inserted to “save space or remove material that is less relevant.” I however, often used the ellipsis to indicate a patient’s sacred pause of reflection when they described their lived experience of illness, which I documented for the medical record.
What immediately came to mind was an episode from the TV series The Big C titled “On Delivering News,” The scene opens with a patient in the exam room awaiting results of her most recent scans. She has been participating in a clinical trial. Her body language suggests she’s preparing herself for bad news.
The door opens and she is quick to read her doctor’s facial expression, “You are smiling—you never smile,” she announces.
“You,” he said, “are among the small percentage of patients whose cancer has responded to the drugs—your tumors are beginning to shrink—some of them have disappeared.”
“WOW,” She exclaims.
“I said Holy,” the doctor admits.
“So I have more time?” she asks him.
“This is uncharted territory—these are new drugs—but we have every reason to be optimistic. There is not a period at the end of your sentence anymore.”
“Is it a question mark?” she asks.
“More like an ellipsis. That which we do not know is far greater than which we do,” he says.
I say, what is unknown need not separate doctor and patient.