In Sickness and In Health


There are these new ads on the subway stops lately advertising “Take Your Man to the Doctor Day.” The idea being that if your favorite man puts off going to the doctor because it’s scary or whatever, you as a lady should somehow force him to go. Setting aside the several feminist issues I have with this idea, an interesting question remains: What responsibility do you have to make sure your partner is healthy? What right does a person have to refuse healthcare?

Like my friend Billy has a backache. He’s had it for a week or two now, and we keep telling him to go to the doctor. He’s got lots of reasons why he doesn’t want to, including that he doesn’t think the doctor will be able to help and also that he doesn’t want to have to go through all the rigamarole of when you first see a doctor (he doesn’t have a regular GP.) I happen to know that he’s under a lot of stress right now, and that his stepfather was recently diagnosed with cancer, so probably there’s more to it than that. But, the question is, what responsibility does his boyfriend Nico have to at some point step in and make him go? Or is it none of his business? What if it’s affecting Nico’s quality of life?
Personally, I feel like if someone you love is doing something stupid, health-wise, you can bug them to change but you really can’t force someone to do what they don’t want to do. I mean, in the end, it’s their body and their life. But at the same time, if I’m planning on spending the rest of my life with someone, their life becomes an integral part of mine, right? Plus, where the line between just having different philosophies when it comes to healthcare and sickness and actively being an idiot in a way that a person will later regret? It’s a pickle.

On the far extreme is my boss. I went to a memorial for her husband on Saturday. He shot himself. He’d had cancer a few years ago, and though he beat it it left him with heart problems. I guess his health was worsening and he worried about being a burden to her, so he killed himself. Perhaps she’s just putting on a good face, but she seems to genuinely believe that it was his choice to end his life the way he saw fit. She pretty much seems at peace with his decision. To me, that is crazy, but then again I have never gone through a serious health crisis with someone, nor have I ever had one, so the fears that go along with that are unfamiliar to me.

You hear all the time about people who find a lump or lesion or some other evidence of a serious problem and ignore it until it is too late because they were scared to go to the doctor. I’d like to think that I would appreciate someone forcing me to get myself checked out if I were in that position, but I don’t know. It’s very complicated, I guess. Nobody likes to go to the doctor or dentist or whatever, but presumably part of being an adult is sucking it up and forcing yourself to go. If you can’t do that and require your spouse and equal to grab you by the ear and drag you there, don’t you just sort of deserve whatever you get?

But then where to draw the line? Should you sit by and let someone start smoking? Gain an unhealthy amount of weight? What about a serious drug or alcohol problem? What if they’re depressed? I mean, a lot of the depressed people I’ve known were unable to motivate themselves to seek help because they were, you know, clinically depressed. What if your partner wants to see a chiropractor but you think they’re dangerous quacks? Holistic healing? Acupuncture? Those people who don’t believe in vaccines? Christian Scientists?

Is it better to err on the side of too much help or too little? You can never know what’s best for another person, but then sometimes even smart people do really stupid things. I’m pretty sure that if Frank had a terminal disease or something and wanted me to help him end it, I would. But then I find the non-terminal-disease-having suicide unforgivably selfish.

Part of being equals in a relationship is the right to say “Fuck off, it’s none of your business” but part of being partners is having a vested interest in the health and quality of life of the other person. So I don’t know what the right answer is. I guess, like most things, I’ll have to just take it as it comes. Stupid grey areas.