Have You Stopped Beating Your Wife?

Some questions are loaded, and there’s no good way to answer them.  My high school debate coach was the first to introduce me to loaded questions.  We were taught that lawyers are infamous for this technique, but once you know about it, you recognize it other places, too.  Some of the medical questionnaires I’ve had to complete lately seem to have been designed by people who like loaded questions.

For example, have you stopped beating your wife?  sounds like a simple yes-or-no question.  It’s really a trap.  “No” means you haven’t stopped; you’re still beating her.  “Yes” means you have stopped, so you’ve beat her repeatedly in the past and recognized the need to stop.  When feeling pressured, few people think to say, “I have never beat my wife so there’s no need to stop.”

My family physician only asks for “average number of drinks per week.” I’ve never before seen such questions as these new doctors are asking.  Date you quit drinking?  is one of those questions that really have no good answer.  What if you haven’t quit?  What if you don’t know a date?  What if you do know a date?  Does that mean it was a significant event worth remembering?

Now that my pancreas has decided not to function properly, doctors are actually reading some of my paperwork and looking a little closer at how I answer their increasingly detailed questions.  One of my new doctors flipped through all the forms I’d filled out; apparently I interpreted the loaded question wrong, because he asked, “Have you ever been a heavy drinker?”

Should I ask for a definition of heavy?  I have a neighbor who is drunk before 3:00 every afternoon, but he insists he’s not a heavy drinker.  Does anybody ever respond “Yes”?  Is “No” ever believed?  Is there a way to broach this subject without sounding defensive?  If it won’t change anything, then there’s not really any point in asking.  Are there different treatment tracks based on the patient’s past ETOH use?

Maybe (unlikely) I’d forget all about it, except that I went directly from that doctor’s office to another who insisted that I can’t have chronic pancreatitis, because only long-term alcoholics get that.  Despite the fact that there’s plenty of evidence to the contrary, if that’s what practicing doctors believe, I foresee problems ahead.  I can anticipate being grilled about my drinking history for the rest of my life, and it won’t matter what I say.  If anything, telling the truth will make things worse because the doctor will be convinced that I’m untruthful.  That’s not particularly encouraging.

When doctors put “Date you quit drinking?” on their patient history forms, the line on which answers are written needs to be longer than 1/2″.  I want to write, “I was never a drinker, so there was no reason to quit.”

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8 thoughts on “Have You Stopped Beating Your Wife?

  1. There are other causes of chronic pancreatitis and these docs should be aware of that despite how rare they may be. Do you know yet if yours is autoimmune related, due solely to the gallstone issue, or “idiopathic”? A super quick review looks like that might affect prognosis to some degree. not sure about treatment. Transplant might be a last resort option at some point in the future. In terms of the response to that loaded question 0 just write N/A for “not applicable”. Although they still probably won’t believe it. I have a drink maybe three times a year. That never falls into their categories.

  2. Put it on there and put it in the margins if you must. I would also be a bit concerned if the belief out there is that your condition can only be attributed to heavy drinking. This reminds me of the belief that chronic pain patients are addicted to their narcotic pain meds. Well, we know differently but who wants to have to retrain the doctor. And unfortunately sometimes they don’t want to be retrained but are engrained in a belief system that can’t be penetrated with any facts. So please do be sure to write that statement on every single form you are asked to complete. I have you in my thoughts and prayers that things will work out for you health wise. ((HUGS)) I can only imagine how difficult this all is and has been.

  3. First of all, hugs to you as you continue to navigate this complex and frustrating process. While alcohol is the most common substance that causes damage to the digestive organs (including the stomach, liver, and pancreas), people with chronic diseases not only take long-term medications that can have similar effects, their diseases can also directly attack these organs. You’ve done an outstanding job educating your readers. Now, unfortunately, it appears that you have the opportunity to educate your doctors.

  4. Socks, You are in my prayers. You amaze me with your ability to express yourself in the midst of such complex issues–while ill. I realize you are rather locked into your local physicians and don’t need my advice at all, but have you considered going outside your system to Mayo or Johns Hopkins, etc, so that all your docs and various specialists could talk/consult and might know more about what they are talking about?
    I know everyone has some idea how to help (those vitamins again), so throw that one out if it doesn’t work for you.

  5. I am so sorry you have to deal with another significant health problem. You are in my thoughts.
    On the alcohol thing. I know a woman who ran into this same problem. Her doctor told her that she had severe liver damage and that it could only be the result of alcohol. She explained that she never been a drinker and probably hadn’t had a drink in 40 year. She felt, as you do, that they simply didn’t believe her. Keep letting them know that alcohol is not the problem. If possible they need to find the root of this problem. Good luck and hang in there.

  6. You all are fantastic. Thank you.

    They tested, and I don’t have autoimmune pancreatitis. This entire ordeal has been agonizing.

    I did go outside the system. Right now I’ve seen GI’s in two different systems, and it’s amazing how different the second system was. They believe me. They actually read the reports. Okay, I’ll put up the next post now instead of waiting until tomorrow.

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  8. I’m a type 1 diabetic with chronic pancreatitis among other things. A couple of years ago after taking an antiinflamatory I developed a GI bleed so severe that it put me in a coma for 4 days when I got to th ER in my town my blood pressure was 40/20.

    When I regained conscienceness I was in a hospital ICU that was completely unfamiler to me, I might add that it scared the you know what out of me. When I asked the Doctor if he thought the GI bleed was from my meds or the pancreatitis, he stated that it was caused by my alcoholism. I tried to tell him that I don’t drink he wouldn’t even hear of it since everybody knows the only reason for pancreatitis and a GI bleed is only caused by excessive drinking, he never did believe me. I felt so uncomfortable and angry at that point all I could say was thank you for saving my life, I don’t intend to argue with you, so either discharge me or transfer me back to the hospital where I live. I was transferred later that afternoon where my own primary care doctor could treat me.

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