A friend of mine works in a firm where one of her colleagues is a middle-aged administrative assistant. Recently, this colleague, with whom she is friendly, shared increasingly alarming stories about her dating life. The colleague, who has never been married, met a man on an online dating site. After a couple of days, the man professed his love; after two weeks, he claimed to be on a business trip abroad and asked her for money, saying he needed it for business and would set up a foreign bank account in her name and return the funds when his trip concluded. This woman obliged and wired the man hundreds of thousands of dollars. She obtained the funds by emptying her retirement account and dipping into other savings.
The woman shared with my friend that her parents, with whom she lives, warned her that she was being scammed. My friend also believed early on that this was a scam but didn’t say anything to her colleague, as she felt giving that “advice” to a much older co-worker was inappropriate. Last week, the man stopped corresponding with my friend’s colleague, who now fully realizes that she has been scammed. This woman has taken out a loan against what collateral she has in order to replenish her retirement account.
I feel secondhand guilt on behalf of my friend, who knew for several weeks that her colleague was being scammed but didn’t intervene. My friend might have been able to prevent this woman from losing her life’s savings. My friend argues that she didn’t need to say anything, because the woman’s parents warned her of the scam; she also didn’t want to offend her colleague by implying that her love interest was being deceptive. Was it her responsibility to speak out? Name Withheld
Too often, we avoid saying something because it might upset a friend, when speaking up would be the generous and loving thing to do. There are big cultural variations here. My Ghanaian friends are less likely than my English ones to keep quiet in circumstances like these. But there are individual variations too: A favorite English cousin of mine would certainly warn any friend she thought was making a mistake of the heart, or the wallet, or both.
Friendship, which is, as Aristotle argued, critical to human well-being, is about looking out for each other, just as it is about taking pleasure in each other’s successes. Maybe your friend and her colleague weren’t friends, in a full-fledged way, but they were, you say, friendly — friendly enough that this older woman shared details of her romantic life.
Would it have made a difference if your friend had said something? There’s no way of knowing. I’m guessing, though, that her colleague would have given more weight to the warnings of a friendly co-worker than to the warnings of parents, simply because most Americans don’t take well to parental interventions in their love lives.
Of course, someone who is in love is not going to be in peak form where rationality is concerned. That’s what these flimflam artists rely on. Regardless of whether it would have changed the outcome, though, your friend should have said what she thought. Romance scams like this one exploit their victims’ loneliness; by keeping her own counsel, your friend was effectively adding to her colleague’s isolation.
I was referred by my primary-care doctor to a specialist group practice for some allergy tests. When I made the appointment, I was assigned to a specific doctor. Had I anticipated that this would be a long-term patient-doctor relationship, I would have researched the doctor’s background, training and such, but since it was just for these tests, I didn’t look up the doctor in advance.
When the doctor walked in, I was taken aback to see that her right arm ended just below the elbow, and several fingers on her left hand were partial fingers. She had a scribe with her to take notes and was able to conduct her various tests, including stethoscope, heart and breathing exams, without issue. She has clearly learned how to adapt.
As I was processing whether her disabilities were an issue for the care I was seeking, I came to the conclusion they were not. However, I felt a big elephant in the room, because of the unusual situation. (I imagine she felt no such elephant, as this was routine for her.) And so, without thinking it through as I should have, I asked, Was this thalidomide? (Besides being a rude question, I should have realized that she was way too young for it to have been thalidomide.) She said no, offering no explanation, and I did not ask further questions.
I eventually looked her up online, and there was some press on her graduation from medical school (from a prominent medical institution). She’s a real profile in courage and determination and intelligence.
In my second appointment with her, I was untroubled by her disability. But I continue to be troubled by the fact that I asked the question. I also wonder whether a doctor, in these circumstances, meeting a new patient for the first time, would be best served by addressing the disability right from the start to allay any patient concerns. Your thoughts? Name Withheld
Your doctor has lived with these challenges for a long time, is used to them, has adapted successfully and knows her own abilities. You, by contrast, were thinking about all this for the first time. She has clearly decided that it’s best for her just to get on with it and not to invite discussion of her physical disabilities — disabilities that, as you came to recognize, posed no problem at all for her treatment of you.
You can see why she would have reached the decision. Having to conduct this discussion with every new patient would be quite a chore. It’s true that part of a doctor’s job is to reassure patients; but nothing about these disabilities was a reason to believe that she would do anything other than an excellent job of identifying your allergies.
The disability rights movement has, over the past decades, encouraged people without disabilities to see that many of their reactions to disability are irrational and to treat people with disabilities, large and small, as much as possible like anyone else. That’s surely worth the effort. Moral progress has often been about making life more equitable for more of the human population. That’s why the struggle against ableism, which involves discrimination against people with disabilities, has taken its place alongside struggles against sexism, racism and the like.
Still, I wouldn’t feel too bad about your question, intrusive as it was. The doctor must know that patients who have never met her before are going to be thinking about her very visible disabilities. She must be prepared for questions like yours. And efficiently discouraging them, as she did, suggests that she has found a way to deal with them that suits her, however trying it must be for her to have to do this on a regular basis. But it’s good you wrote: giving thought to the matter can encourage greater sensitivity about situations like the one you encountered. Which means people like your doctor won’t have to fend off inquiries quite so often.