Doctor Doctor, Please

In essence, what really is a doctor but an expert in what the human body does? It took me far too long to realise that, but it is the truth of the matter. I have always taken two contradictory views of what a doctor is: on one hand they are the gateway to me having better health after a problem I have been suffering with for at least a year; on the other hand they are the crazy bastards I used to get the most royally drunk with at university. Basically, they’re people, but they know stuff.

I think it is right and proper that we have a little distance from our doctors, or else we would be bombarding them with our suspected ailments all the live long day, and asking them to whip lumps off us, whenever something iffy showed up. Honestly, just lop this mole off, will you? No? Why?

My thesis today is that perhaps there is need for a middle ground. That a formal doctor’s appointment, with all the rigmarole that entails, is not always for the best; that a chat with a doctor might just do the trick, and better. The problem is that doctors are people doing jobs, and they have to have lives outside of the office, just as much as we do. They don’t have the time for a chat.

I had a doctor’s appointment last week, and I was very stressed about it in the run up. I have no idea what I was so scared about. It happens every time I have an appointment – it’s precisely the same kind of stress which plagues me whenever I have to do something outside of my comfort zone, like talking to people or leaving the house. It helps greatly if food is involved, but he wasn’t up for that.

The appointment was about my big toe, the nail of which has ingrown so badly that it no longer even resembles a toe. It bleeds constantly, hurts a reasonable amount, and prevents me from wearing the shoes I prefer. I saw him about it around a year ago, when it passed from being a mild irritant to a full blown pain in the arse. He told me to soak it, so I did until I forgot to do so. I was busy, you see.

In the intervening months, in addition to preparing for the birth of another child, attending that, and changing about a million nappies, I have completely ignored my toe. Apart from wiping the blood from it and giving it a good clean every now and then I have just accepted it. I did the same with the fish and shrimp my older child insisted we get. I know they’re there, but I’m not engaging with them.

Men seem to be scared of going to the doctors. This is profoundly bad for our health, both physical and mental. I find the parade of indignities I associate with doctor’s appointments very stressful.

The formality of calling up to make appointments may have been lifted by an online system, but:

  • I still have to leave the house at some point, feeling like I am under scrutiny the whole way there (Because everyone knows where I am going!?);
  • I still have to introduce myself to a receptionist, who (I assume) views me as akin to a spec of faeces for not instinctively knowing the rules of the place;
  • I still have to sit in a room and wait like a respectable human being until, long long long after my appointment was due to be underway, I get told that it is now my turn for the chop;
  • I still have to go up to a room:
    • where someone may or may not give me a lecture,
    • where someone may or may not talk to me like I am a child,
    • where someone may or may not ask me a load of questions I do not want to give anything like honest answers to,
    • where I have to fit all of the pain, the humiliation and reticence in to a summary of the huge thing I have wrong with me, and which has brought me to this fell place.

It is not the stressful situation for everyone, however. Some people like having a chat on the phone, the odd fuckers, so booking an appointment is a piece of piss, not some horrendous ordeal one has to build up to with days of meditative breathing and stomach pains. Some people like getting ready to go out, and trotting along the street like a prize fucking pony. Again, the odd fuckers. I. Do. Not.

Apparently familiarity breeds contempt. I do not believe this for a moment. Ok, yes, well, there have been a number of people over the years whom I am very happy to have had removed from my social circle, because the contempt I had for them had bred rather well; different matter. I think that if we were to go to the doctors more often we would feel a lot more relaxed about the whole thing.

And by “we” I mean young people, particularly men. When we were going to the doctors regularly for pre-natal checks, there was no fear of the place: appointments were scheduled automatically, we were seeing a chatty midwife, and the appointments were nothing to do with my health. Odd that; but the fact still holds that exposure therapy works: bury your face in that which scares you most.

I would love to do a podcast or a vlog with a doctor. It’s been on my mind for a while now. There would only be one rule: No discussions of ailments. It would be there purely for the intellectual job of learning more about the human body from a subject matter expert. I would ask what phlegm was. I would ask why the hair is disappearing from my head, but flourishing on my back and shoulders.

The idea, after the initial fun of it (Why are there no bubbles when I pee? Like when you’re pouring a liquid from a bottle: doesn’t the air rush in to fill the space?) would be to demystify this rotting flesh sack we all walk around in all day. Misconceptions, like lies, set like concrete and can add up to make us feel rather unwell, all through the power of our mind. I once had a colleague who was absolutely convinced she had cancer, and would die in the next few weeks. She’s still alive, many years later.

I would want to come up with questions about any and every part of the human body, and just bask in the information overload. Not all of us are able to pick up a textbook and synthesise the content; not all of us believe that Wikipedia is telling the truth. A doctor is what we need; we need one stat.