4. “Staying in bed won’t make this go away any faster.”
Many laymen believe illness requires rest. They skip work or school. Mothers go to great (and futile) length to keep children immobile. Travelers waste days in a boring hotel room. This myth is so universal that when I reassure non-English speaking guests, I ask them to repeat what I’ve just said. Almost always, they miss the negative.
5. “The fever (or vomiting or diarrhea) won’t harm you.”
Temperature by itself - even to 104 - won’t damage a healthy person. Patients should pay attention, but they needn’t worry that death is near. When patients ask for a genuinely dangerous temperature, I answer “over 105,” but this is less helpful than it sounds because at this level, patients feel very bad. Similarly, healthy laymen fear that a few episodes of vomiting or diarrhea will produce serious malnutrition.
6. “You’ll feel under the weather for a few days; then you’ll feel better.”
Patients may suffer for a week, but once they see a doctor, they want things to move quickly, so I warn guests that this might not happen. In my experience, if I neglect this, patients become concerned if they’re not feeling better the next day and take advantage of #3.
7. “It’s not your fault.”
All our efforts at patient education plus the popularity of alternative medical theories have convinced Americans that they are responsible for getting sick. This is occasionally true but mostly not.