Making mountains out of molehills

How do you distinguish exaggerators from miminisers?

According to Mrs Moan, her husband is a philanderer, spendthrift and liar, she lives in a hovel fit only for raccoons with neighbours from hell, and she cannot afford food. This translates into a housing letter request. 

It's no good explaining that debt and unfaithfulness are not medical conditions. She insists that my reluctance to help proves that I haven't grasped the enormity of the problem.

I decide I owe it to her to assess further. I do see her as an exaggerator but could I be wrong? I recall informing my hostess in Africa that there was a lizard in the larder that I couldn't evict.

'Goodness,' quoth she, 'what a cissy over a gecko. We often get 20 or 30.'

'If you say so,' quoth I, sure that she had not understood that the lizard was three feet long with teeth like needles, and clung to the wall hissing like a cobra. Still, not liking to fuss I attempted eviction alone (resulting in an unfortunate episode of bowel-emptying in the lentils. The lizard did the emptying, in case you wondered.)

So I visited Mrs Moan unasked to check for proverbial lizards, and found a pleasant but ash-riddled house surrounded by cheery neighbours.

'This,' she declared dramatically and helplessly, from a lizard-free sofa beside a plasma TV and a Tesco ready meal, 'is how I live. Now you can see.'

'I'm really sorry,' I said wearily, 'I truly don't believe you have medical grounds for rehousing.' I wanted to add, 'frankly, on a lizard scale your problems are geckos,' but it seemed unwise.

Her application, when it reached the housing authority, where the medical assessments are in fact done by me, was a novel of suffering. 'My doctor was so worried she came herself,' it added. 'She couldn't believe how I live. She was really sorry.'

I was glad I hadn't mentioned the lizard.

Dr Selby is a GP in Suffolk. You can write to her at GPcolumnists@haymarket.com .

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