July 4, 2002 – I can laugh about it now, almost. The most emotionally trying thing about having a newly developed pacemaker wired up to my heart was trying to convince the hospital staff in Tupelo that I know my name.
My mother couldn't have realized in 1936, when she named me Sellers Gale Denley to be known as Gale Denley, that the U.S. Government would intervene in her plans.
In the military it was Sellers G., which you rather quickly outlive. It is only in later years — retirement years — that you lose control of your name again.
Every penny I have paid into Social Security and later, Medicare, was paid for or withheld from a check with the name S. Gale.
Even the Internal Revenue recognized the name on the checks and for years has known me as S. Gale.
To date only Social Security, Medicare, "unzapped" telemarketers, and the Tupelo hospital insist that my name is Sellers, or on a good day, Sellers G.
It began the first day in the doctor's office where I was to be sized up for a new-fangled three-pronged pace maker, which Dr. Nelson Little in Oxford, my regular cardiologist, said was the only thing he knew of that might help.
I attempted to check in as "Gale Denley."
"Sellers G. Denley?" the clerk asked.
"My friends call me Gale," I replied.
She left the form untouched, which I suppose was my first clue as what I thought about or preferred in such matters was going to be worth.
I went through the same procedure with at least two nurses and the doctor himself.
When I appeared at the hospital a couple of weeks later for the over-night installation things were fine at first because the admission papers had not arrived for the process and they had to take my word for what I was there for, who was to do it and what I considered my name to be.
That good will disappeared after several telephone calls produced the tardy admission papers and my name came into question again. Guess who prevailed.
Waiting in the room most of the morning, still without any food or drink since midnight, we visited with the Rev. W.R. Harrelson, pastor of the Mt. Comfort Baptist Church where Jo Ann has been attending for a year or so.
As they talked, I stewed about my inability to convey to the hospital staff what I considered my name of more than 66 years to be.
"Is this the time of life where you begin to lose your identity to the system, becoming a number instead of a name?" I pondered.
"No," I concluded, "if I were to become a number they would be calling me by the first three digits of my Social Security number."
I thought back to 35 years in the classroom, where every semester, I called the roll with last names and asked each student what first name or nickname they preferred. It was on the roll sheet and used all semester, until final grades were turned in with the formal or legal names.
I can't recall why I did this. Maybe some more sensitive teacher than usual in the past had done this. Maybe it was based on irritation when my whole name would appear on the grade sheet.
Maybe it was just the realization that people learn (and possibly heal) more effectively and efficiently when they are not irritated by some unnecessary slight or thoughtless oversight.
When I went back to the doctor's office two weeks later for a 10-day checkup I attempted to check in at the desk as Gale Denley. "Sellers?" they asked. "My friends call me Gale," I tried, but was met with the kind of look young folks tend to reserve for old folks who are wasting their time.
The nurse finally called out, "Sellers." I asked if the last name was Denley and she looked and nodded.
The paper work had not arrived from the hospital, so I told her I was there to get the surgical strips removed.
She asked what kind of device it was. I told her it was a pacemaker and showed her a temporary card that had been made out to Sellers Denley giving the mode; numbers and such.
"It's a defibrillator," she declared.
"I think it is a pacemaker," I diplomatically countered.
"Defibrillator," she said and I thanked her and left.
She called the next day to tell us the paper work had arrived and it was a pacemaker.
We told her it was all right, we knew it was.
How could she had been expected to know what kind of device it was — she didn't even know my name.