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Published On January 22, 2019

CLINICAL CARE

Lies I’ve Told My Doctor

A wary patient has a hard time telling her doctors the truth.

1. I’m 14 years old. My mother and I sit in the emergency clinic. We don’t have insurance, but it burns when I pee and I can’t ignore it any longer so my mom’s taken the day off work. When the doctor asks me if I’m sexually active, my mother laughs and says, “She’s too young!” Maybe I’ve never done “it,” but the truth isn’t so black and white. I say no.

2. Five years later, my doctor asks if my boyfriend and I use protection, and I tell her the truth—we don’t. “Do you want to get pregnant?” I shake my head. “Do you want a disease?” I’m here for a physical, I think, not a lecture. The pill is too expensive and it makes me feel nauseous, and I don’t like condoms. But she never asks why. Before I leave, I ask if she can prescribe me something for my acne. She looks at me as if I am an idiot and says, “Yeah, the pill.” Her little zinger has the desired effect. I walk out without a prescription, and for years—
if doctors ask—I just say I use condoms. 

3. I’m 24 and the doctor asks how much I drink. I say, “Maybe a glass of wine or two every so often.” I don’t drink every day—not even every weekend—but when I do, I start with wine, followed by a real drink, followed by two or three or four more. The binges are followed by distressing behavior, physical hangovers and regret. Truth is, I’m too ashamed of my drinking to bring it up.

4. I tell my therapist that nothing is working. The Seroquel, in particular, only makes me feel worse. “I feel like an elephant that’s been shot with a dart,” I say, plus I’m convinced the pills make me gain weight, which the doctor says isn’t a side effect. I don’t believe him, and I leave out the part about how I’ve stopped taking them. 

5. I’m 37 years old, more than 10 years sober. My husband and I are expecting our first child. Our first prenatal visit, I sit down and tell the doctor my medical history—all of it. I say I’m proud of keeping myself healthy, and I’m eating right and exercising regularly. At my 12-week visit, she chides me for gaining weight, telling me to “go easy on the carbs.” Then she tells me I shouldn’t be strength training. Everything I read online says that moderate strength training is OK. From then on when she asks, “Do you have any questions?” I tell her I don’t. Instead, I go home and Google it. 

6. Now the pediatrician is giving us sleep training advice that we have no intention of using. She assumes we’re compliant with her previous direction not to sleep in the same bed as our baby. I can’t imagine telling her the truth. And in that moment it seems so absurd, and a lifetime of lying to my doctors comes to a head.

Why do I do it? Maybe I’ve never felt they were on my side. Maybe my own shame kept me from telling them the truth. Frankly I don’t know, but I’m done with it. 

As we walk out of the office, I tell my husband that I don’t want to lie anymore. We’ll find different doctors if we need to, ones we can be honest with. And I ask him to help me stand up for myself. I’m a grown woman, I say. They’re trained professionals. And it’s time that everyone—me included—stops being so uncomfortable with the truth.