Hey, what's in a name anyway?

Hey, what's in a name anyway?

May 01, 2001

There were three identical-looking spaniels on the exam room floor. Coincidentally, there were three neatly folded patient records in my hand. (Let the games begin.)

"Who wants to go first?" I asked.

"Let's do the bad guy and get him over with," she said.

"O.K. Which one is that?"

"This one."

What's his name? "We call him Pooky."

A glance at the three records revealed no such name. I was forced to continue the interrogation.

"What name would we have for him on our records?"

"We rarely use their official names," Doctor. "Anyway, we're here today with several problems. Snooter has a terrible wheeze. He might need an X-ray."

"O.K." I said. "Let me see what it sounds like." I grabbed my stethoscope and began to listen.

"Doctor," she said. "That's not Snooter. Snooter is the one over there. The one on the table is Pooky, remember?"

I had an important question for her.

"Who's on first?" I asked.

She didn't get it.

Finally I showed her the three records and asked that she point to each pooch when his name was called. It worked. Foolishly, I thought the communication difficulties were over.

"Let's just talk about the dogs one at a time as we look at them," I suggested, and began the first exam as she continued to share information.

"The last time we were here, you gave us some medicine for that coughing. Do you remember? Well, it's only a little better. Could we get some more medicine while we're here?"

The dog's record showed no history of a cough; a fact which I mentioned to the owner.

"Not this dog," she said. "Phlegmy is the one with the cough." (Here we go again.)

"Which one is he?"

"He's not here today. He's at home."

As the communication problems continued, the office call wound up taking three full days to complete. (Actually, it was only an hour according to the clock, but it sure felt like three days.)

As she left, I found myself hoping that I had entered the information on the proper records, but there was no way to be sure. Anyway, there was no time to worry about that, because according to my receptionist, there was an important telephone call waiting.

"Doctor O," she said. "You have a call on line one from a guy named Ian. He says it's a personal call. He won't say what it's about."

Defying all rules of common sense, I picked up the phone.

"Hello, Dr. Obenski," he said. "This is Ian Congnito calling on behalf of the Retired Fruit Peelers Association. How are you today? Last year you helped us out with an ad in our annual booklet. I hope you can help us again. We have several categories you might be interested in. First, there is the full page ad. We call it the Golden Banana Sponsorship. That's a thousand dollars. Then there is the half page. We call that the Orange Appeal. The next level is blah, blah, blah "

As you might guess, I stopped paying attention shortly after his speech began. Finally, I opted for the lowest level, the one I call the Hang Up and Save option.

Let that be a lesson to you. Never pick up the phone when the caller will not give your receptionist his or her name.

A little help here, please

My next phone call proved to be no less frustrating. It was Mr. Cryptic calling about his dog, Cipher.

"Well, doctor," he said. "He's at it again."

"You know, he's doing his thing again. His you-know-what."

Actually, I did not know what.

"And this time, Doctor," he said, "it's on the rug."

Now I had a hint. To quote Shakespeare: "What's in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet."

I had a feeling, though, that we weren't talking about roses. With a little coaxing, I got him to switch to more scientific terminology. It seems that Cipher left a "jobby" on the rug. We agreed that he would drop off a sample of "number two."

Later, as I left for lunch, it dawned on me that names are not only important, but that they could be getting scarce. We keep changing the names of the viruses and diseases. Every time there is a new product on the market or a new company is formed, a new name is required. Pretty soon we could run out of combinations of letters and we would have to start recycling names.

I decided to stop by my old friend Arnie's clinic and tell him about my fears. Forget about global warming. We should all worry about global name depletion.

"Do you realize, Arnie," I said, "that you could go shopping for a new car and find that since they ran out of names, they had to start using terms from other areas? Would you want to buy a new sports car called the Ford Fistula, or would you prefer something a bit more roomy like the Chevy Adenoma?" (Personally, I have my eye on that new SUV, the Chrysler Pyometra.)

Arnie laughed right in my face.

"As usual, your ideas are half-baked and half-assed," he said. He would have gone on mocking me, but we were interrupted by his secretary.

"Dr. Arnie," she said, "There is an important call for you on line three. It's a man named Ian. He won't say what it's about, only that it's a personal call."

"You'd better get that, Arnie, "I said. "It sounds important."