Thursday, November 15, 2007

don't believe a word

all patients lie. or so i was told. obviously, like most things in life, this is not always the case. but one should maintain a healthy degree of skepticism when listening to the history. i've decided to write a series about a few stories where the truth only came out later.

while training as surgeons, most of us did extra work to make ends meet (financially i mean, because burning the wick at both ends seldom makes them meet in a satisfactory condition).
one of my friends was doing a stint in a private hospital casualty unit. it was early evening. suddenly a man came rushing in. he was hysterical. he said his wife had been shot and she was in the car outside. with er-like drama, everyone rushed out. sure enough, there was his wife in the passenger seat, covered in blood with a nice round hole in her head. they rushed her in, but she had been dead for some time and nothing could be done.
the husband was beside himself with grief. he was actually hysterical. my friend was also pretty shaken up, but being a good caring doctor, he put his own personal feelings aside and devoted all his attention to the man.

they went into a side room where my colleague prepared a cup of sweet tea. he asked what had happened. slowly, between sobs, the story came out. the man, who turned out to also be a doctor, and his wife were out driving somewhere. they stopped at a robot (traffic light). suddenly someone opened the door of their car and shoved a gun in his face. this is a common or garden hijacking and happens with alarming regularity in our country. apparently, then about 4 men got into the car, with the two and drove off. this is also not unheared of with hijackings here.

the man went on to explain how they had been taken to a deserted street and forced out of the car. he described how he had begged for the life of himself and his wife. he said they were forced onto their knees. the one hijacker then pointed the gun at his wife's head and, after some verbal abuse, pulled the trigger.

my friend was shocked. he could only imagine the devastation the patient was feeling. thinking about his own wife, he had to force back the tears. once again, he put it all out of his mind and focused on the patient. he held the man while he sobbed uncontrollably. my colleague admits to even crying with the man. who could blame him? he held his hands and led him in prayer. he gave the man his private cell number.
finally the man left, looking at least a bit better. my friend went back to work, feeling he had at least meant something in the darkest hours of this man's life.

some hours later, the police arrived to fetch the body. being an unnatural death, the body had to go to the forensic mortuary for a postmortem. my friend asked how things were going with the husband.

"oh, we've arrested him for murder." replies the officer casually.
"what!!!" replies my friend less casually.

as it turned out, he took his wife into the back garden and shot her in the head (the part about her being on her knees begging for her life was apparently true). they had found the bloodstains, the gun and a spent cartridge. maybe my friend had held the man up so long he couldn't rush home to hide the evidence.

i really laughed at my well meaning friend about the whole incident. (for those of you who think i'm callous, i did not laugh about the shooting, just about my friend being so taken in).

don't get me wrong, not all patients lie and those that do don't lie all of the time, but it is a good idea to be prepared for it.


amanzimtoti said...

Alot of patients lie, especially if they've already been to one or two other doctors and I too have learned to be a bit sceptical, but this is by far the worst lie from a patient that I have ever heard!

rlbates said...

I think I could easily have been taken in like your friend. Is that a good or bad thing? Not sure.

Anonymous said...

rl it is probably a good thing. a healthy dose of scepticism is all i'm advocating. in the south african context there were a few things i found odd about this story. firstly, why was he not shot? secondly, why was he driving the car that was supposedly hijacked? again, in the south african context this story is unlikely.

Alison Cummins said...

The general rule is that if it’s important, it’s something people will lie about. Whatever “it” is.

I don’t work with the public, so the time I applied this rule the most was in my dating years. Never ask someone if they have an STI. Always assume they do. Then apply universal precautions.

Anonymous said...

This also reminds me of the other side of telling a lie. Sometimes you are being honest but the other person will not believe you.

Just the other day I received a very apologetic phone call from my ex-wife. The cheque, you see, was actually in the mail!

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of an email I got the other day. One of those 'doctor, I'm pregnant but I swear, I don't know how it happened. I've never been with a man. Honest.' The doctor promptly went to the window and continued to stare outside for a few minutes. 'What are you doing?' the patient asked. 'Well, the last time this happened there were three wise men and a star in the story. I'm waiting to the see if they are going to appear again.'