This was my article published in The Hindu on 21 Nov 2010
For a doctor, everything is in a name
Doctors are often expected to have good memory. After all they memorize umpteen Greek and Latin terms like ‘pneumohydropericardium’. A doctor has to remember names of at least a hundred of scientists whose names are given to syndromes they discover. They may be range from names as easy as Down to rather tongue twisters like Steele –
-Olzewski syndrome. Richardson
Many scientists have worked throughout their life time to describe syndromes which were aptly named of them. Every time you render the name you are expected to recollect their yeoman service to the medical field. With due respect to them let us just see the lighter side of it.
Names haunt a medical student throughout his study period. No day will dusk with out a question about a named syndrome. Some times your knowledge is measured as directly proportional to the number of names you know. During exams few examiners are fond of asking about rare among the rarest syndromes.
Some times the same person might have invented more than one disease .So the answer depends on whether you are appearing for obstetrics or orthopedics exam. It goes to the extent that a student wishes he were born two or three centuries before so that only a few names need to be remembered just like a history student’s wish to have born a millennium earlier.
To add salt to the injury almost all names are completely alien to our
tongues which are familiar to Ramasamys and Subbramaniams.There exist unique ways of pronouncing those names.(We even pronounce Shakespeare as Jaga priyar in Indological way).I have heard eleven varieties of pronouncing a syndrome called Mayer-Rokitansky-Kuster-Hauser syndrome The student patriotically wishes Indians to discover more syndromes to take revenge .(How about a Spanish pronouncing Angayarkanni Syndrome?)
Now coming to Dysnomia , it is the difficulty in recollecting names (esp. of persons and objects) or frankly forgetting names. Doctor’s dysnomia doesn’t stop with the student period.
When he starts his practice a doctor has to remember the names of his patients. You can make a grave mistake in diagnosing a patient’s disease or probe his heart on the right side with a stethoscope. But if you forget the patient’s name it is often taken as lack of concern for him.
During the golden period of family physicians, doctors not only remembered patients’ name but also their complete psycho social milieu. Patients felt completely reassured when they were greeted with something like Hello Raju! How is your fever?
. But now not everybody expect their name to be remembered ! Thanks to the era of specialists patients are often seen as files with reports and prescriptions .There is an old aphorism that says: Don’t treat the lab report! Treat the patient! I feel guilty whenever I am not able to remember a patient’s name. But I have few tricks to cover. If he has brought old prescriptions or reports then the problem is over. But if he is unarmed then I become clueless. I usually guess a few names which are invariably misnomers. When I stumble with Mr. or Mrs., many of them volunteer their namesof course some with a small tangible disappointment
It is with the tele-conversation that I stumble the most .People may just say their name and take my memory for granted.(there is a famous Tamil poem by Nakulan about name that goes like neither I asked which Ramachandran he is nor he told it).When the matter becomes so serious that it may jeopardize his health I usually admit that I didn’t recognize him.
But there are many whom I remember clearly and invariably they are the one who introduce themselves every time in detail .Probably one more vignette to Murphy’s laws! Some times they didn’t want me ,a psychiatrist, to remember their names so as to avoid me calling them in a crowded mall.
Juliet might have said “what is in the name?”. But to some at least it matters .So I have resolved to do two things.
1.Try still harder to remember names
2.Not to name any syndrome discovered by me as Ramanujam’s syndrome