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.”