Sunday, December 28, 2008

Blessed Indignity of Modern Medicine

Whether you squeeze it in before the new year or do it in January, the dreaded annual physical is a necessary indignity. We live in a time and place where health care is, by and large, accessible and scientifically advanced. Can you imagine living during a period in history when there was no cure for the common cold—wait, there's still no cure for that—but maybe before they discovered aspirin for fever or headaches,or antibiotics for simple infections? We are truly blessed.

Yet when I embark on my annual journey of medical maintenance "blessed" is not the first word that comes to mind. First, there is the visit to the dermatologist for my cancer screening. I get naked, lie on a table and let this woman look slowly over every inch of my flesh WITH A MAGNIFYING GLASS. She makes little noises indicating that things are OK, until the occasional, "hmmm" which usually results in a precise stream of sub-freezing nitrogen being shot onto various tiny areas from head to toe. She follows that with a few remarks about what a lousy job I've done of protecting my sun-damaged skin. I leave with a blistered face and a bruised ego.

Next I have my blood drawn. This has to be done while fasting, so I don't eat. I read a magazine in the waiting room— stomach gurgling loudly, for three and a half hours (or maybe it was 15 minutes), then sit at a little desk where the nice lady ties a giant rubber band around my arm and inserts a needle. She wiggles the needle and shoves it sideways. I ask hopefully, "Almost done?" To which she always replies, "You have these veins that roll. I never get it on the first try with you!" She pokes many more times, my arm has now been tenderized like a piece of cheap meat, and she announces loudly that she needs "someone else to give it a shot."

The mammogram is truly almost my favorite. Topless, I stand in a room kept at a comfortable 33 degrees Fahrenheit. The 22-year-old Yoga instructor smiles at me and tells me to step forward, hunch my back, point my toes toward the wall behind me, lift my chin and hold my breath while she molests me. (I don't do Yoga...maybe these contortions would be easier if I did?) With both her permafrost hands she tugs, squeezes and stuffs my breast between two pieces of hard plastic boards. She moves away and begins pushing buttons that clamp it tighter and tighter and tighter...then she releases it and we do it all over again. About 60 times.

Naked once again, except for that awesome patient gown, I sit waiting for my gynecologist. He walks in and we exchange a few friendly comments before he sits on a stool in front of me. Suddenly: Go-Go-Gadget-Chair (anyone remember Inspector Gadget cartoon?)...the chair has converted into a table and I'm flat on my back with feet in the air. He keeps chatting about his recent vacation while he's seeing stuff that I don't even want to think about him seeing. My eyes are squeezed shut, teeth and knees clenched. The first two don't affect this examination, but unless I unlock my knees we'll be here all day, so with great effort I do and soon it's over. I'm sitting up again, only to have a repeat of the afore-mentioned molestation above the waist.

My distance vision is 20/20 but not only do I need reading glasses, I am told to get bifocals. The top part for viewing the computer screen and the lower half with more magnification for reading print. Yay! Now I will truly look like someone's granny.

The good news is that my hearing is perfect and I didn't have to endure pain or humiliation to find that out. I am relieved to know that I have a clean bill of health, until next year when I'll be blessed with modern medicine all over again.
Share your favorite doctor visit, medical test stories.
Diane Markins

*On a serious note, after being in parts of Africa where people don't even know some of these tests exist, I am truly grateful that I live in a country where modern medicine is a given.


kathleen said...

When I was going to college my Mom worked for a surgeon at the Hospital that was associated with my University. I had reason to suspect that something was wrong with my breasts and told my Mom. She scheduled an appointment for me with one of the doctors at the University that she knew. During the exam he commented that I looked very much like my Mother and without thinking I replied "I hope the you mean in the face." Nothing was wrong with my breasts but to this day I'm still embarassed about my ability to open my mouth before thinking!

Diane Markins said...

That's really funny. My sister recently started seeing my gyn and had been enjoying a friendly conversation with her just before the exam, then as he began the exam he told her that looking at her was just like looking at me and she told him she hoped he was referring to the other end!

Anonymous said...

Years ago I went to a GYN in another community nearby - a college town so it attracted very savvy medical types. It was my first visit and I've always expected GYN's to be older than Noah at his death; blind in one eye and can't see out of the other; and uglier than a mud fence! To my utter amazement, in walked this awesome looking male specimen with green eyes and a boyish face that could have graced GQ magazine.

Without even thinking, I popped off at the lip with "Oh, you'll never do!" He stared at me for a second and said "Excuse me?" I was so embarrassed that I told him my expectations of how a GYN ought to be/look and we both had a great laugh.

I don't see him anymore. . . but it's my understanding that he how appears to fit my original expectation of who, how and what a GYN ought to be!

Linda S Fitzgerald said...

Sorry I hit the wrong button. . .the previous comment was published by me!

Linda S. Fitzgerald, President
A Women's Place Network, Inc.

Anonymous said...

you seem like you have the best Gyn,warm,sensitive and caring.Isn't it great to have that
such a professional,modern experience. Don't you think those chairs are cool????

Diane Markins said...

Yeah, well, as humble as he is, I'm guessing he wrote that last comment! The chairs are cool once you know what to expect but they are pretty sneaky at first!

Anonymous said...

Diane aside from our mom, I have probably always been your greatest fan. I have always thought your writing is superb, but this description of your gyn exams and your mammogram experiences make me appreciate your writing even more. It's particularly humorous to those of us who have experienced these things first hand because you have described them with such accuracy! I once overheard a woman describing a mammogram to a male friend. She said "it's like lying on your cold garage floor and allowing someone to back the car over your breast". That pretty much says it all.

Diane Markins said...

Thanks. It goes both ways. I admire all the gifts you have too. I am just a bit curious though...maybe we do look more alike than we realize. Only ONE man knows the answer to that!

Anonymous said...

I have been ignoring a long spell of horrible pain with my back and neck. It would flare up if I did a lot of housework or heavy duty gardening and I would treat it with physical therapy and a little use of a muscle relxant. Finally I noticed numbness and a deteriorating grip. I went in to see my primary care doctor and they ordered MRIs of my spine top to bottom. But I put it iff and while getting logs for our woodburning stove I woke up the next day to spasms I have never felt before. This was a very excruciating situation and my son carried me to the bathroom with me screaming all the way and not always making it in time. Now is the time to explain that physical work is a destressor for me. And, I am a very independent woman I hate to ask for help etc. Now, I called and got the MRIs done and made an appointment with the appropriate p hysician. The report was horrifying and the doctor said he could help but I would never be able to be as active as I had been into my 65th year. I was pretty down but then one day I realized that this workaholism, this way of dealing with stress and this prideful stubborness needed to be examined and the emotional reasons behind them needed to be acknowledge. After that I realized it was time to accept help and find other ways to relax and destress. My body just put a stop to this. My sons actually told me they loved being able to help me it was the way they showed appreciation for how I had taken care of them as a single mother. It's hard but now the son who lives with me, cooked all of Christmas dinner, cleaned house and drove me to appointments. Wow. I had put them ahead of me for 40 plus years and now I can relax and enjoy my life and not feel guilty whan I am not productive. And my sons feel happy that they can indulge me. So I realized that I deny people pleasure when I refuse their offers. I should have known that they too find it more blessed to give. Donna