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.
*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.