"More Tug of War"
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15 December 2005
I hate, loathe, despise, and abominate "collateral information."
Collateral information is the part of a forensic psychiatric report where the examiner quotes from reports that have been written by other examiners.
The problem with collateral information is that it can be a paragraph long, or five pages long. There is absolutely no way of knowing.
The psychiatrist's reports follow a standard format:
Each one is a fairly standard length. Sometimes the defendant is from a large family, or has been married several times, or has a long drug history, but basically I have a feel for how long each section is going to be.
I'm always thrilled to get to "Mental Status Examination" because it means I'm almost finished. (It reminds me of the family friend, who told my parents that she was always glad to send our family a Christmas card because by the time she got to "West" she knew she was almost at the end of the list!)
But then out of the blue he'll toss in "collateral information."
If he starts dictating something that the Mom said or the spouse said, then it's not usually too bad. But if he starts giving me dates and identifies medical or law enforcement personnel and asks me to put the list in chronological order, I know I'm in for a long section.
The problem is that there are days when I'm just so tired of listening to the psychiatrist's voice, I could scream and when I hear "collateral information" I know that the end is not in sight, and that I have no way whatsoever to guesstimate how long this section is going to be.
What's more, it's just reading what someone else has already written. Verbatim.
The other bad thing about lengthy "collateral information" sections is that that information needs to be incorporated into his summary and conclusions. Whereas the other sections of the report are fairly cut and dried--recording what the defendant has said during the interview--by the time he gets to summary and conclusions he has to take all the information from the arrest record, from the defendant interview, from previous reports, and then form his own opinion and state it in legalese which is legally acceptable, using all the right buzz words and phrases that the attorneys need.
And so he rambles.
And goes back to correct. Again. and Again.
The amazing thing to me is that I typed these reports for years on a typewriter. How in God's name did I ever keep from killing him in those years? I was using erasers, for Pete's sake, when I first started typing his reorts.
We have a good relationship, the psychiatrist and I. We've been working together for most of the 32 years I have lived in Davis. I don't remember when I started, but probably when our kids were together in nursery school. A very long time ago.
Lots of water under the bridge. Paul and one of his sons were best friends. Later, our Malaysian student, Vince was a very good friend of one of the psychiatrist's sons. The psychiatrist and his wife are friends of ours and I like him a lot.
Once I bought a huge word processor from a neighbor who was going to throw it out. This was before I had a personal computer and the thing literally took up most of my office. And all it did, essentially, was type and print. It took 8" floppy disks (yes, 8", not 5"). The printer was more than 3 feet wide and took up the entire top of a cabinet.
It was convenient for typing his reports on this monstrosity because for the very first time I could type into memory and didn't have to backtrack and either erase or lift off. But about that time, the psychiatrist decided to run for a national office for the American Psychiatric Association (he ultimately won). He needed to send out hundreds of campaign letters and I honestly don't know how I could have handled it without this huge word processor and its "merge" capability--my first experience with "merging."
The campaign was kind of the last straw for the machine and by the time of the election, it had stopped working, but it had definitely paid for itself by the time I had run off all those letters.
I don't think the psychiatrist knows how much I charge him. In all these years, he has never asked. He trusts me and he just pays whatever bill I give him. If I raise my rates (which I haven't done in about 15 years), he doesn't know it.
He's so trusting that once I mistakenly billed him twice and he paid the bill twice without even realizing he had already paid it (I returned the second check when I realized I'd made a mistake).
I have this moderately complicated formula for calculating the charges for his reports and then I usually toss in an extra dollar or two on top of the calculaed charges and figure that covers the envelopes and the corrections, if there are any to be made.
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