Tell the Truth, Have You Ever Lied to Your Doctor?
If you’d asked me 10 years ago if I’d ever lie to my doctor I would have said no, absolutely not. Honesty between a doctor and patient is necessary to get the best care possible. Lying only endangers your health. However, after being a professional sick person for the past six and a half years I have to admit that, yes, I have told a fib or two or three to my doctors. And yes, I know that’s bad, but I did it anyway.
Some of my lies are about petty stuff, like how much caffeine I drink. I’ve said I just have one cup of coffee a day, but some days I really have two. Other times it’s been more serious. I once got a prescription from my general practitioner, and even though she’d checked to make sure it wouldn’t cause any bad reactions with my other medications she told me to talk to my headache specialist before taking it to be sure it wouldn’t have a bad effect on my headache. I told her I would totally do that, but I totally didn’t. I took the medication and figured if something went wrong I’d just stop taking it. The biggest lie? I once waited several months before increasing the dosage of one of my daily meds like my doctor had prescribed because I was too lazy to start cutting the pills in half. That’s such a stupid reason, but it’s the truth.
So why do I lie even when I know I shouldn’t? There are several reasons.
When you’ve been sick for years you start to feel like an expert
I probably know more about headaches than the average internist. I can name dozens of brand name drugs commonly used to treat headaches and I can match them with their generic counterparts. I would kill at Trivial Pursuit for Migraineurs. Not only that, I’ve successfully used my knowledge to profit. I bought stock in Allergan, the manufacturer or Botox, right before it was approved as a treatment for migraines, and since then the stock price has increased by 200%! At this point they should just hand me a prescription pad and let me treat myself, right? Wrong, of course. While I might be an expert patient and mildly successful stock trader, I still don’t have a medical degree.
Who needs doctors when we have Google?
Even if I didn’t already feel like an expert, it’s so easy to Google your symptoms or read the documentation about a particular medicine that you start to feel like you don’t need a doctor at all. Or if you do, they’ll just rubber stamp whatever you found on the Internet on your own. It’s important to remember that doctors, particularly specialists, have experience and knowledge that can’t be indexed by Google. I should take better advantage of that.
I really don’t want to have a certain conversation
Sometimes I know I’m doing something wrong, like not exercising enough or not taking enough breaks when I use a computer, but I don’t want to be scolded by the doctor about it so I just lie or try not to bring it up. It’s important to remind myself that even if a conversation is difficult to have, avoiding the conversation does not make the underlying problem go away.
Sometimes my goals are different than the doctor’s
When I see my headache specialist every six months, his goal is to give me the best treatment possible, whereas my primary goal is to get my refills approved. In the interest of this goal I might say I’ve had slightly less pain than I really have because I don’t want to adjust dosages or try new medications anymore. I’m doing all right, if not stellar, but if I put on a happy face I can get my drugs and get out of there.
It’s easier to stick to your story than to tell the truth
I fill out the same form whenever I visit my headache specialist and one of the questions asks if I have any trouble going to sleep or staying asleep. I’ve been answering this as “no” for the past few years, but sometimes it takes me 2-3 hours to go to sleep, which means I should be answering “yes” to this question. However, if I were to start answering yes I would have to have a conversation about the problem and eventually tell my doctor, “Oh, yeah, this has actually been going on for years but for some reason I never told you about it until now because I am weird.” It’s just easier to stick to my story than to have a conversation about the fact that I’ve been lying for no reason about something for years.
The thing the makes me feel the worst about lying to my doctor is knowing that the treatment of headache disorders relies on the patient telling the truth about how they feel because there is no scan or test that can tell a doctor how much pain someone is in. Headache doctors rely on accurate self-reporting from their patients. When I tell fibs I’m violating that trust. If I were ever caught in a lie it might make my doctor distrust some of their other patients who aren’t rotten, little liars like me.
And of course, worst case scenario, lying to your doctor can lead to your death. When I think of the actor Heath Ledger who died from a fatal combination of prescription medications, I think, “There’s a guy who needed to be more honest with his doctors.” I don’t think lying about how many cups of coffee I’d had today will kill me, but I probably shouldn’t take the risk. What might seem like an insignificant detail to me might be seen as a medical risk by my doctor.
And what about you, dear reader? Have you ever lied to your doctor? If so, what did you lie about and why?
(By the way, if any of my doctors read this, I just want you to know I never lied to you. I only lied to those other doctors. Seriously. Would I lie to you?)