The Physical

6 02 2010

“Go Get a Physical!”

Guys are stubborn! Duh! My wife rode me like a tick on a hound dog, for several weeks, trying to get me to go to the doctor for a routine physical. Like most guys, I kept putting it off, offering one excuse after another, until one day she got tired of waiting and took it upon herself to make an appointment for me. Why don’t guys like to get a physical? Well, I can’t speak for all guys, but, as for me, it’s the prostate exam. I know.. I’ve heard the arguments. He’s a doctor… he does this every day.  Somehow that just doesn’t ease my angst. He might do it every day, but, I don’t. Nevertheless, I gritted my teeth and kept the scheduled appointment.

Rule number one: never schedule a physical during cold and flu season. That’s not the time for well people to be going to the doctor’s office. I sat there in the waiting room, surrounded by old people, young people, and in between people, every one of them hacking, sneezing, coughing and wiping their runny noses. It reminded me of when I was in the seventh grade and found a tear gas bomb in a trash heap. I snuck into the classroom during recess and set it off just as the class was returning from the playground. I remember, when everyone returned to the room, it sounded a lot like a doctor’s office waiting room during cold and flu season.

As I sat there, feeling like I should take a bath in hand sanitizer, I was careful not to touch anything until, finally, the nurse came to the door and called my name.

After getting my weight, I was escorted to the examining room where the nurse took my blood pressure. I was, then, left alone to wait about 15 minutes until the doctor came in and began the exam.

He checked all the upper orifices without any cause for concern. He had me lay down while he poked, prodded and palpated his way around my gut, neck, and back. He then worked his way down to feel my feet and ankles. So far I was tolerating the exam quite well. But, then, he instructed me to stand by the table and drop my pants. It was time for the hernia check…the second most dreaded part of the male physical.

The Magic of the Memory Cell

The human brain is an amazing organ. We may experience an event and years later re-live that moment which can be triggered by a smell or something we see  or hear. I’m sure there must be a ten cent medical term for that, but, I don’t know what the word is and I doubt you care anyway. When he told me to drop my pants, I experienced one of those moments. I immediately recalled a moment, a learning moment, in my previous life, while serving in the Coast Guard.

It was 1976, and time for my annual flight physical. The flight surgeon had made it through the exam to this same point-the hernia check. He issued the same instruction as my doctor today, “stand up and drop your pants”. Now, at this point, I feel compelled to let you know something about the flight surgeon. Less than a year from retirement, he was the quintessential, ageless family doctor, except he was a military physician. He was Marcus Welby in a Coast Guard uniform. Although he was a senior officer, he was just another Joe, always with a kind word and fun to talk with. If you were fortunate enough to engage him in conversation, you didn’t feel like you were talking with a Coast Guard captain, one rank below admiral. You felt as though you were talking to your grandfather or your buddy from the Kiwanis club. And, if there was anything he loved better than his work, it was talking about his work.

This is Awkward

So, as I stood there in his office with my pants around my ankles and no pockets to shove my hands into, many things raced through my mind as he went about his work. I felt quite awkward, but to him, it was just another day at the office. Trying to make small talk, I thought back to the part where he looked into my eyes with his eye-looker-into thingy. (I told you I’m not medically trained.) I asked him, quite naïvely, what he was actually seeing when he looks into an eyeball. Well, that was a big mistake. I had presented him with an opportunity to discuss his work, and he jumped on it like Bubba on an all-you-can-eat buffet. The good doctor turned to his desk and grabbed a book, which he opened up to show several pictures of the inside of the eyeball. He then began to explain, at great length and in great detail, the various diseases and maladies which can be detected by viewing deep into the ocular orbit.

As if I didn’t feel awkward before…now I stood there, for what seemed an eternity, as he continued to explain and share the photos in the book. Do I cross my arms? Should I bend over and pull my pants up? Or, is the polite thing to just stand there naked from the waist down and act as if I’m really interested in what he is saying? I wasn’t sure what Emily Post would have to say in a situation like this; so, to be safe, I just stood there and listened, awkwardly. I’m pretty sure my impatience did not show; but, I can’t say the same for anything else.

Just Keep Your Mouth Shut and Get Out

Flash forward. My present doctor, who is about to check me for hernia, is much younger than the Coast Guard doctor was and every bit as friendly; but, he is in private practice, which means he doesn’t have the luxury of taking time to share the inner workings of the eyeball. Still, I learned my lesson and kept my mouth shut. Besides, I’m ready to move on and get this thing over with.

Then, there it was; “Get on the table, on your side and pull your knees up to your chest”. It was time for the dreaded prostate exam.

Again, I found myself at an awkward moment. What do you say when the doctor has you in such a compromising position? “Find any spare change”? “Make sure you still have your watch, doc.” I guess the best thing is just to lie there and get it over with.

Still you find yourself thinking. So, my mind was racing again. As I laid there, I was reminded of a time when I was about to enter the fifth grade and my mother took me to McClellan’s Department Store in downtown Wilson, North Carolina, to do back-to-school shopping. I picked out a pack of Fred Flintstone erasers. You know… the kind that fit on the top of your pencil. To put it on the pencil you had to shove the pencil top into the hole in the eraser which was… well… you know where it was. So, as I laid there, I had an understanding of how Fred felt while riding on the top of my pencil.

We live in the most technologically advanced country in the world where medical accomplishments are nothing short of miraculous. So, why is it we can’t find something better than the human forefinger for examining the male prostate? I call it the pineapple-picker effect. In the movie Blue Hawaii, Elvis, while working as a tour guide, said they’ve never found anything better than the human hand for reaching down into the pineapple plant to pick a ripe pineapple. All I know is I was glad to have him out of there and be on my way home. Maybe, before my next physical, I’ll be able to stall my wife until they invent a robotic prostate checker.

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2 responses

12 08 2011
Janet Robinson

Bill, this is soooooooo funny. I love your stories. Who knew the boy who shared the weasels with me was to grow up and be this talented. Keep it up so I can read more. Your cuz………Janet

13 08 2011
Bill Taylor

Hey Cuz! I’m glad you enjoy reading my stories…motivates me to write more. I had to think about the weasels thing for a minute but then it came to me. I hope to see you in October!

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