Editor’s Note: This week scene introduces a new column riffing on “The Ethicist” in The New York Times Magazine. Ever your helpful guide, Emma Allen will make sure you don’t get caught as you cheat, lie and scheme your way through the tough times that lie ahead.
Q: How much can I lie to my doctor without seriously endangering any hope for proper prescriptions/diagnoses?
A:For me, this predicament first arose around puberty, when my doctor gave me that “I already know the truth because I can see your soul when I look in your ear canal, but I’m going to feign interest anyway” gaze and asked me if I was getting sufficient vitamins and minerals. The truth was that I had probably stopped growing, contracted scurvy and started fainting spontaneously in the shower after having adopted a diet of only coffee and peanut butter, but what I said was, “Of course! I love cottage cheese!”
Cottage cheese was code for caring so much about my health that I would eat curd. But what cottage cheese really represented was a willingness to lie without remorse or fear for my life to anyone with an M.D. and/or a stethoscope.
As I got older, but not taller, the questions only got tougher. I finally switched from my pediatrician (far too late, but who doesn’t love free lollipops and Legos in the waiting room?) to a doctor armed with an arsenal of impossible questions. The interrogation included such stumpers as, “Do you do street drugs?”
Well, what I wanted to ask is: “What is a street drug exactly? A drug bought on the street? Grown at street-level? Transported by taxi? By scooter?” But of course, what I said was: “No.” Doctors probably should not inspire the same fear and inclination toward perjury in me as airport security officials, but they do.
Pretending that I have not left my luggage unattended/that I jog is even more anxiety-inducing because I go to my mother’s doctor. I have this persistent image of the two of them sharing a beer and gossiping about the actual amount of exercise I get (reaching for the cookies on the top shelf and leaving on a Billy Blanks Tae Bo tape while I cut my toenails).
And even here at Yale, where my mother doesn’t brunch with the staff of DUH, I don’t get to enjoy deceiving the white coats. That’s because at DUH it doesn’t matter what kind of crazy tall tales you tell — you can say that you inject heroin into your eyeballs and were bitten by a Belizean howler monkey — they will, without a doubt, tell you that you have mono and then insist that they check to see if you’re pregnant.
If you have any type of connection to the medical world, however, let me congratulate you. My close friend hasn’t had a doctor since hers popped out something like six babies in one fateful year in the mid-nineties and then disappeared into the suburbs. Said friend is currently avoiding any group activities where she might become infected with meningitis and is hoping that the Australia-shaped rash on her abdomen will disappear when she runs out of the discount body wash she bought in bulk.
Ultimately, I don’t mean to suggest that you should lie for the pure joy of duping someone who invested a small fortune and about a million years so he/she can make you feel better when your tummy hurts, because that would just be cruel. But sometimes, the only way to make yourself feel better is to lie enough so that you can simultaneously convince your doc and yourself that you are a healthy person, the kind of person who eats cottage cheese.
Summary: It is always wise to use caution before you lie so much that you alienate the person who can legally give you prescription drugs.
Emma Allen likes to throw caution to the wind.