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.”

Thank you, Alexander Graham Bell

I’m calling to make an appointment to call you.

You just did call me.

Yes. I called to make an appointment to get some information from you.  When would be a good time?

I’m available right now.

Oh, no.  I need to make an appointment to call you tomorrow.  We need to get a complete medical history from you for your upcoming procedure.

I gave that information to the surgeon yesterday.  He said he’d fax it to you.

Well, I can ask him to fax it to us, but I really need to make an appointment to get this information directly from you.

Let me get this straight.  You’re phoning me from the surgical center today to make an appointment to phone me tomorrow to get information from me that I gave to the surgeon yesterday?  Even though I’m available right now, you’re not allowed to ask me now; you must wait until tomorrow even though my schedule is already full?

Yes, ma’am.  That’s our protocol.

Your hospital’s protocol has certainly provided lots of blog fodder.


Wouldn’t it be nice if everything always balanced the way it’s supposed to?  What could be simpler than:  see a doctor, pay the co-pay, check the EOB when it arrives, then pay the outstanding balance?

I’m pretty good at keeping track of most of my medical expenses, but the PT bill is another matter.  There are multiple lines detailing what was done at every visit, plus multiple lines explaining the insurance payment and write-off, with a final “here’s what you owe” number that should match my EOB.  It’s not unusual for a monthly billing statement to be eight pages long.  It’s mind-numbing to wade through all the detail; I’ve usually just glanced at it, scribbled “pay this” on the envelope, and passed it along to my husband for payment.*

Not a good idea.

Yesterday I sat down with the stack of paid bills to sort them out (and test a program I’ve been slowly working on in my spare time), and discovered two appointments which were listed on two subsequent bills – we paid twice.

A quick phone call to the billing office with a request for our account history was all it took.  That simple request spurred them to look at the account, and along with the dozen pages they sent (yeah! e-mail) was a note that they’re sending a refund for our overpayment.

Now to finish my database so this doesn’t happen again!

*DH has a fabulous system for paying all the bills when they’re due – neither early nor late.  He pays all the bills, but I track all the EOBs and medical expenses, so I approve mark them when they’re accurate so he knows they’re okay to pay (or I phone for corrections when they’re inaccurate and make the appropriate notations so he knows that, too).