Craig Cliff reveals why men's threshold for going to the doctor is so high.
I was sitting in the waiting room of the Island Bay Medical Centre on a Thursday afternoon, surrounded by sick people, thinking, "I don't belong here."
Until this point, I'd only been to a GP once in the past 12 years and never in Wellington.
Like most men, my threshold for going to the doctor is rather high. There are those rare, first- rate symptoms - coughing up blood, passing out, persistent and excruciating pain - which are enough to warrant the trip, although we're already in that grey area between seeing a GP and calling an ambulance. Mostly, though, we men are afflicted with second and third-rate ailments - the crook back, the cracked heels, the sniffles - things we suspect the medical profession cannot fix, or fix cheaply. Better to tough it out.
One can easily take this thinking to extremes and wind up with Black Knight Syndrome (someone cuts your arm off? 'Tis but a scratch!)
The only known cure for Black Knight Syndrome is the female voice.
I'd made the tactical error of mentioning a benign but mildly embarrassing third-rate symptom to my darling wife. Something I'd put up with for a while, along with the sprained pinky finger that stopped hurting but still stuck out at an odd angle and the mild rash that according to the internet was dyshidrosis, athlete's foot, or diaper rash.
Before I knew it my niggle had been upgraded to first-rate with a capital C.
Wife: "It could be cancer."
Sceptical husband: "Pretty much anything can be cancer."
Wife: "You should still get it checked out."
Dutiful husband: "Yes dear."
And so there I was, in the waiting room, too scared to touch the magazines for fear of catching "it", whatever "it" is that brings people to the doctor on a Thursday afternoon: old age, colic, an addiction to Kleenex.
Why are there so many Doctor, Doctor jokes? I thought. There's nothing funny about being sick. Wait, I'm not sick. 'Tis but a scratch!
When my name was finally called, I went into my new doctor's office and we ran through the bowel cancer, skin cancer, diabetes, strokes and arthritis that have befallen my kin in recent years, just to put me in a positive frame of mind. My height, weight and blood pressure were taken and then it was time to discuss my mildly embarrassing, nether-regional complaint. My doctor nodded and said the four words no man longs to hear: "Let's take a look."
I'm not going to lie. I lost one of my last remaining shreds of innocence that day but it wasn't so bad and ended with the sweetest phrase in the English language: "It's nothing to worry about."
I looked at my watch. I still had five minutes left. I showed him my wonky pinky, my nearly-gone rash and a couple of other niggles I remembered on the spot.
If I were a station wagon I'd struggle to get a warrant of fitness. And yet I left the Island Bay medical centre that day with a weight lifted off my shoulders. I didn't catch old age or colic and my darling wife had one less thing to hold over me. A good day indeed.
Craig Cliff is a writer and a reluctant patient. He writes a fortnightly column.
- The Dominion Post