British comedian John Cleese is a fascinating chap, and a great many people enjoyed his RTE interview on a flying visit to Dublin before Christmas. He told a story I had heard many years before on Desert Island Discs about his father Reginald, who was so embarrassed by the family surname Cheese, that he changed it to Cleese when he signed up to fight in the Great War. The study of people who change their names is interesting.
Personal dislike of a name is common. Separation or divorce are frequent grounds too. Immigrants often change their names to fit in better with their new country. Getting away from a past can be cited, too. Quite a number of Bin Ladens went back to maiden or maternal surnames after the 9/11 terrorist attack on the United States. It's not unknown in Ireland for notorious killers to have their identities changed after discharge from penal institutions or long-stay hospitals. A recent edition of the Medical Independent reported that an unnamed doctor, who was found guilty of professional misconduct and sanctioned by the Medical Council, was permitted to change his name on the register of medical practitioners.
The doctor, though still registered, is apparently not in practice. There are 'health-related conditions' attached to his registration with the Council and he would be obliged to inform any employer or contractor that his practice as a doctor is subject to conditions. But he is registered under quite a different name to the one he had when his problems arose. I suspect our Googling world may be seeing and hearing a lot more of this.
I greatly enjoyed the TV documentary on Brendan Behan that was shown recently. It was an honourable attempt to rehabilitate folk memories of the man, and to prevent his great literary legacy from always being dunked in alcohol. But stories of Behan take on a life of their own and invariably follow a pattern. Last year, I told you some tales from the archives of Baggot Street Hospital about his behaviour during an admission for diabetes management. Well, a lady who gave birth to her first baby in the National Maternity Hospital on Holles Street in the late 1950s has been in touch with me. She has a Behan tale of her very own. The nurse on the postnatal ward came around each night to give all new mothers a baby snipe of Guinness. My correspondent told the nurse that she didn't drink, but an inner-city-Dublin lady in the next bed was aghast at this. She gave out stink and insisted that the snipe was taken and handed over to her! When the babies were three days old, all the godparents arrived to take them to St Andrew's on Westland Row for their christening. Brendan Behan was the godfather to the baby in the next bed. After an hour, all the babies were returned, except Behan's godchild. The matron and the ward sister were in and out all day with questions for the mother. Then the police were called in to search for the baby. At 11pm that night, the baby was returned by a garda to the ward. The baby had been on its first pub crawl. One of the party had purchased milk, filled a stout bottle and put a teat on the end so that the three-day-old could join the party! A great welcome to the world.
We are back to Irish College again this week as I promised to bring you cupla focal from the world of obstetrics and gynaecology (cnaimhseachas agus liacht bhan) or as it might be known colloquially, "women's things". To start with a bit of anatomy, 'ovaries', 'womb' and 'vagina' are na hubhagain, an bhroinn agus an fhaighean respectively. Things that can go wrong include heavy periods (ag cur fola go trom) and bleeding between periods (ag cur fola idir na cursai). Better news, perhaps, would be pregnancy, which can be beautifully described as ag suil le paiste, or the less pleasant-sounding toircheas. Early days of pregnancy can be accompanied by vomiting (ag cur amach) and in latter days, you hope to feel plenty of life (moran corrai). You need to keep a close eye on the health of husbands when gynae matters are discussed. If he says, "Ta me an-mhifoighdeach agus cantalach le gairid", you might not be the only one who is cranky and irritable lately. And if he says, "Ni feidir me a shasamh", you know there's no pleasing him. We might raise a glass or two and look at alcoholism as Gaeilge next week.
Some years ago, I had intended to write a piece on cinema therapy and medicine at the movies for a medical newspaper. The groundwork consisted of asking fellow doctors to send me names of films that they felt described or captured the course of particular diseases quite well. The list got started but I never got around to finishing the project. Perhaps, with your help, I might resurrect it here. One of my favourite movies was Awakenings, where the late Robin Williams played the part of Dr Oliver Sachs who used a new medicine (L-Dopa) to waken long-term hospital residents with encephalitis lethargica, or sleepy sickness. I'll get you started with two other examples. The Elephant Man dealt sensitively with a severe case of neurofibromatosis that may have been complicated with another rare condition, proteus syndrome, and The Madness of King George showed what can happen when porphyria is undiagnosed. What I'm after is not long lists, but rather one or two films that readers felt dealt well with a particular ailment or medical condition. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org and my postal address is PO Box 5049, Dublin 6w.
Dr Maurice Gueret is author of ' The Doctor's Case'
Sunday Indo Life Magazine