Prosopagnosia (Greek: “prosopon” = “face”, “agnosia” = “not knowing”), also called face blindness, is a cognitive disorder of face perception where the ability to recognize faces is impaired, while other aspects of visual processing (e.g., object discrimination) and intellectual functioning (e.g., decision making) remain intact.

I went to see a very ill patient up on the floors just now, and while I was walking back to my office, I ran into two people I really, really should know. One is a patient of mine, someone who has had several office visits and phone conversations with me that were quite intense, as she was very sick. In addition, we’ve had numerous other interactions over the years.  As we were talking, I could remember her medical issues, her lab results, even what her last chest xray looked like; but not her name.

We chatted, me growing more embarrassed every second as  it was painfully obvious that I was searching and searching my mind for this woman’s name. I tried to mention details from her case in conversation, so she would realize that I KNEW her. Just not her freaking name.

Two steps on, I almost ran head-on into the family member of another patient, someone I knew very well from that patient’s prolonged complicated medical admission. Which was just a few weeks ago. I know the case details, and the discharge issues she’s had, and the medications she’s on, but, I cannot remember either of their names. We chatted briefly, with me asking a vague, “So, how is…. she?” referring to the patient whose name I cannot recall.

So, so lame.

This is a longtime recurring issue in my life. I have been at family events with relatives I have grown up with, and I can’t recall their names. Former classmates, colleagues… hell, I’ve blanked on current colleagues’ names.

Worse, much worse, I will search the diorganized rolodex of my mind for the name, and then think I have found it, and I will use the name… the wrong name. I have done this innumerable times, most recently at a party full of people who turned and stared at me when I called “Jane! So glad you’re here!” and the woman was Darcy.

I know all the recommendations for remembering names. “Use their name often in conversation.” “Use their name in a sentence.” And, I feel like I do that. But still, it slips away, like a worn label on clothing… there but not there, so faded as to be beyond recognition.

If I’m in the grocery store and I run into a patient (happens), I can blame being “out of context.” Today in particular, I can blame the fact that my mind and emotional energy are very much with the sick patient in the ICU. I can also blame fatigue, hunger, and general distraction… to an extent.

Regardless of excuses, it feels so lame and awful to KNOW who someone is, and yet not be able to grasp who, really, they are. My issue is obviously not classic prosopagnosia, I offer that as a sort of humorous analogy. But it is an issue…

Does this happen to anyone else?