Why Patients Lie

77% of doctors say their patients aren't being honest. A female health writer exposes the dirty truth on why women just can't come clean.

The last time I stumbled into an ER, I was in upstate New York. My boyfriend (now husband) John and I were there to hike the Catskills, but after eating our weight in pancakes, we headed back to our motel and passed out in a carb coma. Next thing we knew, it was noon and we had watched three Soprano’s episodes in a row.

I remember dragging myself out of bed to open the blinds and groaning when a ray of pristine sunlight burned into my retinas. No way were we getting up. This, right here, was bliss. I took a running leap back onto the mattress, misjudged the distance, and slammed into the headboard, which slammed into the wall, and sent a crappy landscape painting slamming into my skull.

At the nearest hospital, a tan, golden-haired MD who looked as if she could run 100 miles without getting winded asked how it happened. The truth ran through my mind and was instantly rejected. It was just too pathetic. So I made up a story about tripping on the trail and hitting my head on a rock.

Eyeing my flip-flops and pajama pants, she arched an eyebrow, and started quizzing me on this fictional trail. Clearly, she knew I was lying, and I swear she pulled a little harder on those stitches than she had to. Which brings me to the first of many reasons why I think women knowingly lie to docs:


I’m not saying men aren’t subject to judgment as often as women are, but women are surely more sensitive to it. That day in the ER, I felt vulnerable and helpless, head aching, hair matted with blood, stomach still stuffed with pancake. I couldn’t bear the thought of that doctor’s disdain on top of everything else. Fudging my story didn’t exactly solve the problem. But, at the time, I preferred to be branded a liar than a lazy slob.


Thanks to morning TV and self-help books, most women are hyper aware of what counts as a ‘symptom.’ As soon as we notice one, we schedule time with a specialist. The result is that we’ve gone over our medical history umpteen times. At this point, I won’t even mention certain chronic conditions because if one more MD tells me that people with dry skin shouldn’t shower in hot water, I’ll punch them in the throat.


No matter what health issue we have, it’s inevitable that someone in our female social circle will have experienced the exact same thing, and found the perfect pill to cure it. Off we go to the doc, determined to get that prescription. And thanks to our friend’s intel, we know exactly what to say to score it.


Sure, I may overdo the booze and caffeine and come up short on exercise, vegetables, sleep, and sunscreen. But, to be fair to myself, I’m not some Us Magazine celebrity mom with a personal trainer and professional chef. Given the time and money I have compared to say, Halle Berry, I feel perfectly justified describing myself as a “regular exerciser” and “healthy eater.”


When we’re hiding something big, the depths of feminine discretion rival a Florida sinkhole. Take a forty-something relative of mine who has a cigarette every day on her way home from work unbeknownst to her husband, children, or closest friends. Nothing (short of being caught red-handed by a certain, ahem, someone) would get her to admit she’s a smoker—not even if her life depended on it.