BEVERLY HILLS—You tell me you’re an honest man, a regular, likable sort with stainless-steel scruples and candor galore, and by my lofty Presbyterian standards, put you in a medical waiting room and I’ll show you a liar—as pussy-footing a perjurer as there ever was. First of all, you are confronted by the standard medical form, on the standard medical clipboard.
With a proud air of accomplishment, after affixing my John Hancock, I hand it to the receptionist with luminous eyes. I wonder if they’re real, the eyes, I mean; this is Beverly Hills, after all, and you can never tread in the certainty of what is real over faux. At length, the receptionist utters the obligatory, “You need to fill out the rest of the form,” making me feel every inch a fool, and lifting for inspection the sheet’s backside and revealing a list with a million medical diseases and embarrassing conditions.
When I return to my seat to fill out the rest of the paperwork, it so happens that my seat, next to which I’d left my cap and sunglasses, is now occupied by a stout young guy with a football physique. That leaves one empty seat between my cap and another fellow gazing at the TV. Now I have a choice: I can pick up my belongings and sit next to the USC linebacker. But that seems unnatural—an over-friendly invasion of personal space—so I opt for the chair next to the other fellow who is engrossed in the flat screen. Who, in turn, gives me a nasty look and crosses his legs.
Irrationality has raised its ugly, un-Botoxed head in this modern gleaming doctor’s office. I place a call to my analyst, Dr. Freud, who readily confirms the law of the stall. “At the University of Vienna I discovered that you had five porcelain urinal stalls in a row. The first man enters the restroom, and it is customary to take the one stall closest to the entrance. Guy number two will ordinarily position himself at the stall farthest from the entrance. If a third guy should enter, the unstated rule dictates he will take the middle stall. If, given the choice of the three middle spaces, he should go right up next to one of the first two gentlemen, instead of choosing the middle stall, it violates the rule and he will cause consternation.”
I have come to have a wart treated and find myself in a maze of deceit and Freudian goblins. As if it’s not bad enough to find myself the patsy of some Freudian principle that cannot be devined, I have yet to fill out the medical history, which, when I am least expecting it, severely tests the limits of my honesty.
First, the questionnaire asks if I have any allergies. I am, thankfully, free of them—indeed “allergic” to allergies. Feeling smug, I glide into the netherworld of family medical history and then the lies and denial begin. Does the dermatologist really need to know about the cousin who had AIDS? (He was, after all, only a second cousin.) Or Mom’s slight stroke? This could needlessly worry the dermatologist whose concerns are only skin deep. Gosh, if you’d hang all the maladies in the family tree—Alzheimer’s, osteoporosis, cancer, hernias—it might break the branches. Strike a compromise: check high blood pressure under the heading of Father.
The really big lies by omission start when there is a spot for Other, enticing me to summon any more diseases or complaints: do you or do you not put down hemorrhoids? You quickly realize, however, there is no spell check when wielding a ball-point pen, and who needs to go there anyway. Finally, the receptionist calls my name so sullied by lies, “Mr. Miller, the doctor will now see you.” It’s all I can do to scribble my signature, meekly fill in the ”˜Other’ blank with hypochondria, and flee to the nearest elevator amid a flurry of half-muttered apologies.