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What to do when the doctor isn’t following his own orders

From its start in 1906, A Bintel Brief was a pillar of the Forward, helping generations of Jewish immigrants learn how to be American. Now our columnists are helping people navigate the complexities of being Jewish in 2020. Send questions to

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Of zebras and nasal swabs

Dear Bintel,

My husband is a medical professional and he’s coughing a lot. He says he is OK, but I don’t know whether to believe him because he goes into too many shops. What should I do?

— Worried

Dear Worried,

A few words for you:

Nasal swab.
Saliva sample.
Contact tracing.

Please, get your husband tested for COVID before finishing this sentence. If he is a medical professional, he must know the closest testing site and he should know the importance of doing this ASAP. You can go to your state or local health department’s website yourself to get the info too. There are even FDA-authorized tests that you can do at home and then send into a laboratory for results.

I know, easier said than done. But with over 4 million cases reported in the U.S. alone, this is no longer a choice. It’s a moral obligation.

It’s an interesting phenomenon, doctors who don’t follow doctor’s orders. Maybe they’re used to people (like me) coming in with allergies, convinced they’re dying of nose cancer. Or maybe it’s that old adage about not expecting a zebra when you hear hoofbeats. It’s supposed to remind medical students to look for the most common diagnosis instead of the most dramatic, and perhaps your husband took that to heart. But these are unprecedented times, and corona isn’t the zebra anymore — it’s the horse.

As for the pushback that he seems to be giving you, here is some helpful phrases for you to try:

Just because you’re a doctor doesn’t mean you know better than me.
I need you to get tested because I’m worried about your health — and mine.
I’m going to get tested and I made you an appointment too.
Date night! Let’s go get swabbed!

Seriously, if you don’t do this, you and he will be putting many lives at stake — think about his colleagues, patients, fellow customers, and anyone else who’s been near him (or you).

On that note, remind him that this affects you, too. Maybe the idea of his impact on the populace at large is too diffuse to be compelling, but you, his beloved wife, are right there in front of him, listening to him cough, playing out the worst-case scenarios.

And in case you haven’t noticed, worrying is futile.

It’s time to step up.

Abby Sher is a writer living in Maplewood, N.J. Got a question? Submit your questions to




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