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A Piece of My Mind
October 2, 2013

What’s in a Name?

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Radiation Oncology and Center for Bioethics and Social Science in Medicine, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
JAMA. 2013;310(13):1347-1348. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.276908

Illness and the need for medical care can threaten the essence of one’s personhood. My father, like many physicians, was at his core defined by his profession. Raised in the prim and proper culture of the British Commonwealth, even his in-laws called him simply “the Doctor.” At the age of 67, while working at the hospital, he collapsed due to a thromboembolic stroke, losing his ability to walk and his sense of invulnerability. He was the sort of gentleman who eschewed the T-shirts and sweatpants that are the recommended apparel for a rehabilitation stay, preferring instead to grace the physical therapy gymnasium in crisply ironed button-down shirts and khakis. Unsurprisingly, he cringed every time a young staff member would call him by his first name (or, even worse, by an Americanized abbreviation they created from it). However, it would have aggrieved him even more if we had explained that calling him by his first name seemed to emphasize all that he had lost with his illness.