What is more valuable to you, your health, or the impression you make on strangers?
At first glance it might be an easy question; health, right? Of course health is more important. Health is what allows you to live. Yet anyone with some sort of connection to the medical world will tell you, for many people faced with this choice, the answer is the impression you make on strangers. People will omit, deny or straight out lie.
My father fell in the bathroom. He hit his head on the edge of the bidet. Two of the bolts that anchor the bidet to the ground are ripped out of the tiles, and the thing is leaking now, so he hit hard. When I heard my mom yelling and I ran in, he was laying in a weird angle, eyes open but not focusing. He was not responding to either my mom or me, and he was making a sort of weird, low, continuous moan. I called an ambulance. I did not want to move him, but when I got off the phone his breathing was really strange, almost like a really loud snore. It sounded obstructed, and since the ambulance can take over half an hour to arrive here, I felt I should try to at least move him in a way his airways were free. I put a pillow under his neck to move that part as little as possible and pulled the rest of his body straight. About 3 minutes after I first saw him on the ground, he seemed to come back to reality. The paramedics showed up, did some basic tests, and then pulled ‘protocol’ on him. Everyone over forty who hits their head is advised to go to the hospital for proper check up.
That’s how I got to spend Sunday afternoon hitching a ride in an ambulance and sitting in various waiting rooms. That’s how I started wondering why some people find the impression they make on strangers more important than offering the necessary information emergency personnel needs to help them. Because when I am honest with myself, the main reason I got into that ambulance wasn’t because I wanted to keep dad company. It was to make sure doctors and nurses would get a version of events as close to the truth as possible. I knew my dad wouldn’t do that.
On Monday, a couple of stitches, an IV of fluids and a CT scan later, everyone is home, happy and having birthday cake. It’s all slightly surreal. We were incredibly lucky. And I am still wondering why we feel compelled to present ourselves in a way that works to our disadvantage to people who are there only to help. People who, with a little luck, will never meet us again.
I knew my dad would not be honest about his drinking. In fact, I expected him to down play or deny it. What I didn’t expect is that he would claim to have drunk wine. Wine? He never drinks wine…Of course, I had already told the attending nurse he had about four shots of rum. The wine claim was really puzzling to me. Clearly he wanted these people to think of him as the sort of person who drinks wine. Perhaps it is more classy in his eyes? Still, I imagine what they really hear is “I had alcohol”. How does it matter in what form?
If it had ended there, I would not still be thinking about this. But when asked (as per routine I am sure) when he last went for a check up, he said a year ago. Um, try three; although, it is probably closer to five. As it turns out, my dad does not need his medication for high blood pressure anymore. It’s low. When he takes those pills, it get’s too low. Then he drinks alcohol, and it gets low enough to pass out each time he stands up. Had he not pretended his medical information was up to date, everyone might have been a lot less panicked about drastically low blood pressure in a man supposedly suffering from high blood pressure.
He is diabetic. Again a routine question, when did he last eat. The paramedic checked his sugar; it was fine. But in his answer the time of his last meal is moved at least two hours closer to the time when he is asked. Does it matter? I don’t know, I’m not a doctor or nurse. But I do know he’s giving wrong information, and if it does matter the people trying to help now have a distorted picture.
The last thing I was wondering about has to do with pain. I can’t be sure it is dishonest. But here’s a man who is in need of stitches in the back of his head. The base of his neck and part of his shoulder are starting to show the first signs of a nasty bruise. And when asked if he’s in pain, all he will admit to is his neck being ‘a little stiff’. How does this help him in any way? Maybe that was the only thing bothering him, but I really doubt it.
Overall, the untruths my father told are minor things compared to the tales some people spin to medical personnel. I know I’ve heard much stranger things while working in the pharmacy. I would think ER nurses and doctors will get stranger stories still. (Considering some have written a book about objects that got stuck in private places) It is going to be pretty damn hard to shock a ER worker who has been there a while. They have heard and seen it all.
In the end, the only effect these false impressions have, are misdiagnoses, longer waits for correct treatment, and suffering through needless pain. You’re not helping them to help you. You are paying them to help you, and then making sure you don’t get your money’s worth.
Yes, I know these thoughts were displacement. Monday evening I worked through the stress and fear and had my emotional venting. I’m okay. Calm returned…but so did these questions. My mind might have dragged them up because I needed to be distracted from all the things that could have gone horribly wrong, but they are still valid things to wonder about. Why are many people more likely to protect their ego than their person? And had it been me, would I have done the same? I’m not sure.
(Authors note: with thanks to Danna Colman who was so kind to edit for me)