Thursday, August 10, 2006

Let's Get Physical

It had been about eight years since the last time I stepped into a doctor’s office when I made my way all of one block uptown today at lunch to get the ol’ engine serviced. My irrational fear of medical practitioners -- which is really part of my larger, no less irrational and even more problematic fear of physical existence -- has led me to develop a set of tools to deal with my heebie-jeebies. For instance, Tool One: Avoiding a checkup for nearly a decade.

Once that tool outlives its usefulness, I pick up the next trustiest, which is turning my fear into a joke around the doctor -- brilliant and unheard of, right? Yeah. I do this partly to win them over with humor, making it less likely, I imagine, that they will order unnecessary invasive exams. But I also do it so they’ll understand if I suddenly jump out the window at some crucial moment during the proceedings, like the Cowardly Lion on his way to confronting the Wizard.

Upon disclosing my nervousness today, as if it couldn’t be sensed from down the hall, the doctor -- the first woman I’ve been to for the engine, and certainly the first woman of any type to be direct enough to say to me, “Take off your boxers, I want to look at your testicles” -- asked, “Why are you nervous? Do you think we’ll find something wrong with you?”

“Well, yes, there’s that,” I said, being a longtime adherent of the philosophy What You Don’t Know Can’t Hurt You Until It Quietly and Painlessly Kills You In Your Sleep. “But I think it’s more the poking and prodding. I just always fear it’s going to hurt somehow, even though it never really does.”

I also have a silly notion that the doctor is going to do his or her best -- not purposely -- to make my worst nightmares come true, though I’m rational enough to understand what Nick said earlier this week: “I’m pretty sure they’re supposed to help, unless that part of the oath has changed to, ‘First, do no harm, except to John Williams.’ ”

Of course, these twisted visions always bloom in the days leading up to the appointment. Once I’m in the office, the primary task becomes the same one in offices of all types: fending off boredom. I was initially left in the exam room by a friendly nurse with a very thick Eastern European accent around 12:15. Ten minutes later, I was sitting on that vinyl divan-like structure covered in deli wrapping paper (The Embarrasser, I christened it in my head while waiting) in my underwear and a flimsy robe open down the front (these robes are new since the last time I saw a doctor; I suppose they’re meant to provide more dignity, but I experienced even less somehow), when I noticed that my feet, dangling a foot above the floor in the very cool air-conditioned room, were swelling and turning an alarming shade of purple. I started pacing to get the blood flow back. I looked at the time displayed on a phone on the wall. 12:38. Ten more minutes would pass before I was joined by the affable doc, and that’s a long time to spend barefoot in an open robe with only jars of tongue depressors and thoughts of your own mortality to keep you company.

After we spent some quality time, during which we went through the usual motions of my meeting a healthcare provider -- me reciting my spiel of I’m a bit of a neurotic mess upstairs, there’s probably not much you can do to help me, etc., and her tapping my knees to make my feet do that spastic little air dance and quietly judging me for being a 32-year-old who seemed like he wouldn’t mind having his mother’s hand during this completely painless ordeal -- she left the room with a promise that the nurse would be back to take care of the painful stuff.

The nurse’s accent was beautiful. It did sometimes obscure what she was saying, but I felt confident that phrases like “rectal exam” would come through loud and clear, so I kept an alert ear. At one point, while putting the stickers on me for the EKG, I thought she asked me to take off the robe. I assumed it would make it easier for her to reach the sides of my chest. I asked her to confirm. “No,” she said, “I just said, ‘I’m moving some of your chest hair to put on the stickers.’ ” Ah, my bad. Why she felt the need to narrate the relocation of my body hair, I’m not sure, but it was pretty humiliating to misinterpret “This won’t hurt a bit, Bigfoot,” as “Please disrobe.”

After that, it was all over but the shouting, by which I mean, the bloodletting. The doctor had reassured me by explaining that, because of training techniques passed on by a former nurse, the office uses small butterfly needles to draw the blood of all patients, “the same ones we use on children,” and nothing forces you to calm down like hearing, “Elementary schoolers are routinely tougher than you.”

I know it’s all in my head, which just makes me feel worse about myself. The fact is, I do a variety of things every week that feel worse than having blood drawn -- stub my toe, jam my finger, go to work.

I stared at the ceiling and got through it. In this way, it was like any other rough stretch of life.

Now I just have to wait for the blood results. Breath held, fingers crossed, all that. I’ve heard that kindergartners await their results with stiff upper lips, so I’ll try to do the same.



Blogger lmha said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

4:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You had the robe on backwards. It opens in the rear - for dignity.

10:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, the opening on the robe varies, depending on the exam being done. I always ask when they hand it to me.

4:55 PM  

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