Sibling similarities may be larger than they appear

By Henry Soong

Those vaunted certainties in life – death and taxes – have been facing a lot of pressure in our modern age. The warning label, it seems, is looking to join their exclusive pantheon of doom and drear.

Like uninvited termites, you’ll find them loitering around your house, gnawing the insides of your medicine cabinets, “Warning: Do not exceed recommended dosage.” “Warning: Keep out of reach of children.” “Warning: Do not take with alcohol.”

On the tele, things aren’t much improved. “Erections lasting longer than four hours, though rare, require immediate medical attention.” Nightly news is always brought to you by such funny ads. And in our day-to-day lives, warning labels continue dutifully to protect us from ourselves. “CAUTION: Coffee is hot!” “Do not use (blow-dryer) in shower.”

As much as death and taxes, the warning label is ubiquitous in our world of mortal flubs and hazards. I figure, warning labels are so effective, they should be used elsewhere, too. They’d probably be great in helping hapless people avoid social snafus, so I’ve recently been entertaining the idea of attaching a disclaimer to myself.

Warning: May come with clone-like brother.

My brother Stephen is a first-year medical student at the University. He and I share this campus amongst many other things, not least of which is an apparent striking physical resemblance. We’re both pretty tall and skinny. We both have long, angular faces topped with spiked crewcut hair. This has caused quite a bit of confusion over the course of the school year as we have learned, and it’s about time the situation was rectified. Bring on the disclaimers and warning labels.

In all honesty, I never really thought that I looked much like my brother. Stephen is four years older than I am, so growing up, we were always at different stages anatomically. But I guess since my voice changes, growth spurts and once-bepimpled face have settled, my roughly five-foot-11-and-three-quarters self has slowly become less and less distinguishable from my brother’s.

The extent of our similarity was made clear last summer when I started working part time at the same hospital my brother had been working at for years. The surgeons, who didn’t know I had started working there, routinely greeted me as Stephen while they casually went about their business. There were a lot of baffled looks exchanged amongst the MDs when we were both in the same operating room. The gaggle of chattering Korean nurses, who had an even harder time telling the difference, assumed that I was the older brother and called me Dr. Soong.

On campus, the problem has caused more than a few embarrassing situations. In one particular instance, a tipsy floormate ended up performing an inquisition on my brother as they rode the elevator together. Vehemently refusing to believe that Stephen was not Henry, she didn’t hesitate when he offered to show her his ID. Now, every time she’s had too much to drink, she insists on checking my ID, just to make sure I’m not “the other Henry.”

Our identity confusion is one of those types of problems that can be easily remedied. In light of the current movement to tag anything and everything remotely confusing with a warning label, I’m toying with the idea of getting one myself. If my chest were plastered with a gentle reminder that I have a clone-like brother, chances are, most people would think twice before blurting out a wrong name.

Of course, I’ll need to convince Stephen to do likewise with wearing the warning label. Even though he’ll be at the University’s Peoria medical school campus in the fall, it can’t hurt to pre-empt any future misunderstandings. The labels will, as clearly and deliberately as the cautionary messages on coffee cups and blow-dryers, remind you to think twice before doing something stupid.

So remember: Coffee is hot, blow-dryers electrocute, and Henry has a clone-like brother.

Stephen is a freshman in Business. Err … I mean, Henry. Henry’s a freshman in Medicine. Or Business. … Right? Henry is a freshman with an identity crisis.