Doctors with questionable nicknames last thing patients need

Voices of the Clarion

Posted: Sunday, April 02, 2006

Supporting a loved one through a serious illness can lead to a deeper understanding of profound life truths.

I experienced this firsthand as my mother underwent treatment for cancer this winter. Along with the more mundane factiods I picked up over the course of her hospitalization — like bread pudding in a hospital cafeteria will neither contain bread nor bear any resemblance to pudding — I was struck by the second-most important revelation on human existence that I’ve ever pondered: Doctors should not have nicknames.

The number one most profound revelation, of course, is: the phrase “no skin off my back” is disgusting and should be banned from the English language.

But the thing about doctors and nicknames is a close second.

Patients and their loved ones facing serious medical conditions are already under a great deal of stress worrying about life and death, wills, power of attorney, impending bills, insurance claims, whether Judge Brown will order that guy to pay back his buddy the $500 he borrowed, even though he used it to buy drugs and the guy who lent it knew the buddy was going to buy drugs but is mad because the buddy didn’t share, and he only had the money to lend because he ripped off his ex-girlfriend, who’s now pregnant with his fifth child ... .

Can you tell I watched a lot of daytime TV this winter?

My point is, there’s enough to worry about without throwing doctor nicknames into the mix.

No matter how innocuous a nickname may be, it causes undue stress on patients and their families because they have no way of knowing what the nickname means.

For example, Dr. Nicholas Peterson could go by “Nicky” as a shortening of his first name — or because he’s had some mishaps with a scalpel.

Dr. Henry “Slim” Daniels might be a reference to the man’s body proportions, or to his patents’ chances of survival in surgery.

Dr. Eddie “Spaghetti” Martin had better be a cute rhyme or love of Italian food. If it means anything else a patient would have to be suicidal to visit him.

Even seemingly positive monikers could have sinister meanings.

“Chief” Dan Donald could be a title or mark of respect for an accomplished physician, or it could refer to his status as the chief suspect in a medical malpractice suit.

You just don’t know.

I was struck by this revelation when dealing with my mom’s lead surgeon, who based his recommendations for how her treatment should proceed on the assumption that she had a kind of cancer that she in fact did not have.

Following that encounter we tried to express our concerns about the guy to mom’s other doctors, but were always met with some form of this reply:

“Chappy? He’s great! Don’t worry about good old Chappy.”

My response: “Uh, Chappy?”

Since the man’s name shares only one letter with “Chappy,” I was left to wonder what the nickname meant. At first I was willing to give him some credit.

Maybe it’s a term of endearment, as in “he’s a good old chap,” I thought. Or perhaps he attended medical school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

As mom’s surgery date neared, however, it became impossible not to associate him with buttless pants and some sort of skin condition.

Not an inspiring mental picture, let me tell you.

The only way doctors should be allowed nicknames is if the name is so obvious there is no way it could be misconstrued. Dr. Shirley “Hasn’t Lost One Yet” O’Malley would be OK, as would Dr. Bob “The Grim Reaper’s Worst Enemy” McCoy.

And who wouldn’t feel comfortable visiting Dr. Michael “Once Operated On A Guy Who Had Both Legs Chewed Off In A Tragic Industrial Coffee Grinder Accident And Had Him Walking Again In Two Months” Smith.

But anything at all nebulous should be outlawed.

I’d even go so far as to add a line to the Hippocratic Oath:

“ ... I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures which are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism.

“And I will never be referred to as ‘Chip,’ ‘Iceman’ or — above all — ‘Skip,’ or any other nickname that causes my patients to question my ability as a physician and/or golfer. ...”

While we’re at it, let’s add a line forbidding hospital employees from recommending, no matter how jokingly, that someone try the cafeteria’s bread pudding.

That stuff looks like it could be skin off someone’s back.

Jenny Neyman is the city editor at the Clarion.

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