My general pediatrician friend stopped me in the hallway, in the middle of my self-congratulatory sponsorship announcement to my colleagues, to ask if I remembered the patient Brenda I consulted on last week.
Brenda (again not her real name) was the last patient of an otherwise uninspiring clinic the week prior. She was seeing me for a six month history of amenorrhea. Because she was heavily involved in sports, I remembered her well. "The basketball player. Planning to join crew in the spring. Real skinny girl. Yeah, what about her?" I asked.
My friend had that smirky half smile that smelled trouble. "I just got off the phone with her school principal. One of her teachers caught her purging in the bathroom after lunch today."
"Really?" I offered, somewhat astounded by the news.
"Turns out this wasn't the first time. Some of other kids on the basketball team have reported seeing her doing the same thing when they're out eating after away games."
"But she's such a good kid." I replied, flipping through my internal patient log to review what red flag questions I might have failed to ask that would have pointed me toward anorexia.
"They always are. They always are. They're imposters. They get perfect grades. They have perfect friends. Their parents sees them as perfect kids. And they also learned how to give perfect answers in doctors' offices too . Yet, underneath all that perfection, hides a little girl with a very dark secret and an eating disorder."
I nodded, humbled by own inability to make the right diagnosis.
"Don't feel bad, you weren't the first doctor that she's duped." My friend said, patting me on the shoulder as she spoke.
"But I spent an hour with her last week talking about her periods. AN HOUR! How could I not have seen it coming?"
"You see this?" She said as she holds up a chart the size of a medical textbook for me to see. "She's gone through everybody. Nobody suspected. Nobody knew. I'm got a psychiatrist to call and an eating disorder clinic referral to make so I'll see you later."
She walks away as I gave her a short wave. Luckily, my colleagues have all since gone way too, leaving me to wonder if Brenda had indeed fabricated the details of her life when she gave me her history last week or if I wanted to buy into her perfect life for more personal reasons.
Later that night out on the park roads as I was pounding out 5 sets of Yasso 800s at 2:55 pace with the omnipresent moon my only witness, I thought alot about Brenda and how, as an honor student and a star athlete, she must have felt so much pressure from all her peers, her family and her teachers to do the right thing from an early age. She must have gotten so used to doing the right thing and acting the part that she lost all sense of self she ever had. Maybe I am extrapolating, but her double life seems so sad to me. I can't help wondering if her anorexic symptoms was her body's way of letting go, all along a planned escape, a masked cry for help. Maybe getting caught and being forced to deal with her issues before she got really sick or done something worse IS the best thing that could have happened to her. I just wished I could have seen this coming, I wish I could have known. If I ever have the opportunity in the future, I would ask her if it was all worth it, to play the part of a perfect life but lose your sense of self in the process?
(To be continued...)
I want to know: What's life like living as an impostor?
(To be continued...)