“Statutory warning: Getting prescriptions over phone is injurious to health.”

A phone call can become an acid test for one's language skill. Even though my wife doesn't rate my linguistic skills highly, I was thinking so. The first thing she does on receiving my romantic messages is to correct them. Of course, no man is hero to his wife.

Once, a school teacher received his wife's suicide note. It said, “As there is no love between you and me, I am going to commit suicide.” He immediately responded: “You should have written you and I, and not you and me. Me should be used as an object.”

Coming back to phone calls, so many times we are in a situation, having to spell some words on the phone. Be it our address, email ID, or website, spelling matters much.

Once I went through the ordeal of answering the customer centre of a bank. The honey-tongued girl asked me to spell almost every word. When I mentioned my degree as M.D, she asked for the spelling. When it comes to alpha-numerals like PAN, the confusion never ends. There is always the confusion whether it is zero or the letter O.

Just like for Radia-friendly politicians, a telephone conversation might become a nightmare for both the doctor and the patient.

Medical terms are neither tongue friendly nor telephone friendly. Many times, my relatives or friends would read a scan or laboratory report on the phone. Out of curiosity, they would spell every printed word, right from the scan centre's name to the reporting doctor's name. Of course, there would be terms like salphingo-oophoritis in between. By the time they finish reading, my hair would have grown two more inches. Nowadays, I ask them to e-mail them. Phone calls can never become a better alternative to personal appearances.

But there are things worse than this. As a doctor, I sometimes have to spell the names of drugs on the phone. I always discourage this practice. Of course, there is no remuneration for a phone consultation. It so happens that the drug that I have prescribed might not be available in the pharmacy and I could not be seen in person. Usually I ask the person to hand over the phone to a nearby pharmacist or doctor. Sometimes, you have no option other than spelling the names.

You cannot simply spell a drug name like “ASPRIN” and get away with it. The person at the other end usually wants to be very sure and immediately asks “A for?” or “P for?” It is only then I start experiencing word-finding difficulty. I have difficulty with at least 25 alphabets.

For some letters I use to think hard as if I were Samuel Johnson but only to remain clueless. Words with a silent first letter cause confusion like when I say “K for knight or T for tsunami.” Due to a lack of words, I sometimes give many phonetically funny statements like “B for bee” (a spelling bee question?) or “Q for queue.” Once a person asked, “W for what, sir?” I had to reply, “Yes! W for What!”

The final blow came one day. While I was spelling the name of a drug, I was searching for a word starting with the letter N. Neptune.. Nebula ..Nest.. not even ‘Nothing' came to mind. Suddenly, I said N for Nayanthara! The caller was an old religious man. I didn't know what he thought of me. But he never turned to me again. Maybe, he expected a Narayana from me or probably he is a Trisha fan!

In psychiatry, we use a test called ‘FAS' to test verbal fluency. It tests how many words a person can tell in one minute starting with these letters (F, A and S). I never dare to attempt it on myself.

With the advent of the mobile phone, now I have the option of sending an SMS. But, at times, I find my daughter's alphabet book handy. Never forget your basics!

(The writer's email is: ramsych@sify.com)

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