Saturday, October 4, 2008


This past week I heard a case where the disabling impairment was severe depression. After the preliminaries, I needed to ask a series of questions concerning activities of daily living (known, of course, as ADLs). It was hard going. The claimant was tearful and confused. Most questions elicited head shaking or blank stares. My questions seemed to be pushing the claimant ever closer to the brink of a complete break-down.

I turned to her attorney and asked him to carry on with the questioning in the hope that his familiarity with the client would calm her down and elicit helpful responses. It didn't. In fact, the more he questioned his client the more anxious and tearful she became. I took over the questioning again.

During his questions he did manage to extract two pieces of information I thought might form the basis for questioning – that the claimant had two dogs and that she watched TV virtually continuously. I decided to try questions about her dogs.

“So, you have two dogs. What kind are they?”

“Little dogs.”

“What breed are they?”

“I don't know. One's old and fat. I think it's a schnauzer.”

“What's the other one?”

“A chihuahua.”

“OK, do you take them for walks?”


“You said your older dog is fat, how much does it weigh?”

“I don't know, maybe twenty pounds.”

“Do you ever pick it up?”

“Oh no, I never pick them up.”

“What do you do all day with your dogs?”

“We just lay there. They like to lie down with me.”

Well, this line of questioning wasn't getting me much information, but at least the claimant had stopped crying. I decided to switch to TV shows.

“What TV shows do you like to watch?”

“I don't really watch shows, the TV is just on.”

“Don't you have any favorite shows?”

“I like Boston Legal.”

“Is that the one with William Shatner? Do you watch that a lot?”


“That's an hour program, isn't it? Can you follow the story for a whole program?”

“No, I don't watch the whole thing, I just like that William Shatner.”

“Why don't you watch the whole thing?”

“I can't follow the story. Can you?

I couldn't help myself. I just blurted out, “Of course I can, but I've got special training.”

I smiled a sly, broad smile. Around the court room I could see the vocational expert suppress a laugh. My hearing recorder gave a quiet snicker. The claimant's lawyer had a grin on his face for the first time since the beginning of the hearing.

The claimant's face didn't change. Nothing registered.

I tried again. “You know, special training, I'm trained as a lawyer, that's why I can follow the story.”


I knew at once I had discovered a new clinical test for depression. I paid the case.

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