When was the last time you went to the doctor? I mean, went in and had the works done...sitting on the exam table, naked as the day you were born, being poked and prodded and jabbed and probed? Was it sometime within the past year? Good for you! You're doing this "being alive" thing right, my friend.
Was it not-so-recently? Like, so long ago you can't really recall who was president when you went?
This post is for you.
I had successfully avoided going to the doctor for years. Like, since my youngest child was in preschool (for reference, he's a freshman in high school now). Oh, I went in for various maladies, and to keep my Adderall prescription going, but those were quickie visits. Trips to Urgent Care for a troubling cough, a dash into the Target Minute Clinic for a strep test, a 10 minute catch up with my family practice doctor to see how my ADD was doing. Prescriptions faxed to my pharmacy, a co-pay paid and done. These visits didn't entail any undressing or blood draws or inspecting the plumbing. Just the kind of visit I was comfortable with.
That's changing in this, the year of change. 2015 is shaping up to be the year I do hard things, and going in to have a complete physical is right up there at the top of THINGS THAT ARE HARD. Why, you ask? Why is it so hard to face the music and have a doctor do their job and look me over?
Because, that's why. Because I am afraid to face the truth. I've spent countless nights hunched over my computer, diagnosing myself with various ailments, typing in symptoms and sitting there in the glow of my monitor convincing myself that I have come down with a whopper case of hypothyroidism or pancreatitis or celiac's disease or GERD. And then, doing absolutely nothing about it.
For a while, I didn't have health insurance. But...I've had it for a few years now. It's good insurance, too. A yearly physical? Covered, 100%. Not even a co-pay. Coming up with an excuse to not take advantage of this offer is difficult, even for a master-excuse-maker like me.
And so I decided it was time. I'd already taken a big step, the step onto the scale in my bathroom. Talk about facing your fears, people! Seeing those numbers was a huge wake up call (pun totally intended). I'm less than two years away from 50. That day, as I stood there in my bathroom, letting the reality of what I'd done to my body sink in, I saw the fork in the road ahead of me.
There are two ways to go: Keep right, keep continuing down the same path I've been on. The one called ignorance, helpless acceptance...the one where I don't do anything other than stumbling forward blinded by naive optimism and foolhardy recklessness.
The other way? Go to the left and take the blinders off. Approach the mid-century mark armed with knowledge instead of fearing the unknown. Get in, get looked at, get tested.
I went left. I looked up doctors in my network, researched them a little, and found a great little clinic about 5 minutes away from my house. The doctor I chose is a woman, and her bio said that she enjoys working with overweight patients. I figured this was a plus: at the very least I wouldn't be the fattest person she'd ever laid eyes on. She also went to the same college as me, the one my daughter now attends. So there was small talk fodder, if needed.
I made the appointment and the woman on the other end put me at ease. When I said my last physical was so long ago I didn't even remember it, she laughed and said she heard people say that every single day. She assured me that the doctor I chose was a kind and compassionate one, and then told me that I'd have to fast for twelve hours before my appointment. "What about coffee?" I asked. "Black is fine." she told me and for a split second I considered cancelling everything. I could not fathom a morning without my coffee/milk/special cream concoction. "Year of change" I muttered and said, "Okay. See you Monday morning!".
Over the past several years I've had some long, scary walks. The walk into my first divorce attorney's office...scared and sad and not really believing my marriage was over. That sucked, but I did it. The walk into a bankruptcy attorney's building. Feeling like a colossal failure, and trembling like a wet puppy. The walk into countless job interviews, armed with a lackluster education and grim determination to make things better for my family. Scary? Hell yes.
The walk into my new doctor's office was just like that. I feared what lay ahead, but knew in my gut that it had to be done. I had to do it for me, for my kids. For us. Just like every other hard thing I've done over the past 8 years.
Guess what? It wasn't too bad. Oh, sure, I groaned when the perky young nurse weighed me. Groaned, and told her, "This sweater weighs at least five pounds. It's mostly cotton." I cringed a tiny bit when the same nurse was doing the intake process and asked me if I "still get my period." Yes! Yes I still get it! Look, I have a period app on my phone!! I just had it on January 6th!!!
She asked me about my last Pap smear and I looked at her dumbly. "Oh, I'll make an appointment with my gynecologist for that" I said. The cute nurse looked surprised and said, "You get that done today, you know. It's part of the physical." I swallowed hard and said, "Oh...sure. Let's do it." There's one more appointment I don't have to put off making, right?
I stripped down to my black socks, which much to my horror were completely covered with dog hair. What was worse? I wondered. Hairy socks or ten Minnesotan toes in January? The socks stayed on. I carefully folded my clothes, being sure to modestly conceal my bra and underwear. Because having a doctor see those things would be terrible.
Oh, the gown. I'm never sure which way it goes. Keeping things private and tying it in the back seemed like the most comfortable option but surely that would make an exam more difficult. Open in the front? I risked having a conversation with another human being with my boobs sticking out. Ties in the back it was. And yes, it did make the exam more difficult as I struggled to free my upper body from the gown while laying on it. Nervous giggles aplenty.
My new doctor is fabulous. She was kind and chatty and not once did she guilt me about my woeful delay in seeking healthcare. She checked my lungs, my ears, my throat, my breasts and my pelvis and everything else. She approved my Adderall prescription renewal and listened as I rambled on about how 2015 is totally going to be my year of change.
Towards the end of our visit, she asked, "Is there anything else you want to discuss?". I decided it was time to acknowledge the (literal) elephant in the room. "I know I'm fat" I began, and she held up a hand. "Jenny...do you see how small this office is?" she began. "There's no room for shame in here. Instead of saying you're fat, let's just say that you are struggling with your weight. Is that okay?". At this point I decided I liked her, a lot, and imagined her caring for me as I grow old.
We talked about my weight and what I wanted to do about it. What she thought I should be doing about it. She asked me if I'd heard of new medications that help with weight management, and I waved a hand. "I know exactly what needs to be done to lose weight" I assured her. She nodded, and said, "What I like to do with my patients who have BMI's like yours is order a full panel of blood tests." This would be the first and only reference to my weight that she'd make. She never mentioned numbers, she didn't throw around words like "obese" or "morbid" or "gross". Just that casual nod to my BMI, which I would later discover is not good. She casually ticked off the tests she was going to request: Diabetes, cholesterol, kidney function, fatty liver, etc. "You appear to be really healthy, Jenny" she said. "Let's just make sure everything is working right." She left me with a thick packet of weight management tips and a worksheet I could fill out and return if I so desired. Also, a new Adderall prescription and a sheet for the lab with the laundry list of tests they needed to run on my blood.
I got dressed, went to the lab and laughed with the tech who took about 2 gallons of my blood. I walked out of the clinic feeling good. Feeling like I'd done the right thing...a few years late, but right.
In the week that's passed, I've kept a few things in mind. My BMI is always right there, front and center. While I think the BMI thing is kind of bullshit (at my very thinnest, post-divorce, I weighed 145 pounds and wore a size 2/4. Still considered overweight, according to the BMI chart...go figure) it does provide one with a cold, hard number to work with. I like numbers. They can be changed.
I'm watching what I eat. Saying no to the carby things in life is hard, but I know that my age and weight and family history make me a candidate for Type 2 Diabetes. Curbing the carbs is tough but I imagine giving myself insulin every day would trump that. So, hello proteins, goodbye to (most) pasta and bread and sugars. I considered giving up the cocktails for a while but decided that allowing myself a couple martinis one night per weekend would be a good enough effort. Because, yum.
I'm moving more. Walking the dog 4 or 5 miles a day keeps us both happy and gives me about an hour of cardio. Win/win, if you ask me. I'm thinking about treating myself to a FitBit, if I get a decent tax refund. Like I said, numbers are fun and competing with myself to increase the steps I take every day might be just the motivation I need. One of my best friends is pushing me, relentlessly, to take Zumba classes with her. I've reminded her, over and over, that I suffer from a rhythm-deficiency and also have directional dyslexia. I once ran out of a step-aerobics class when I couldn't keep up and kept bumping into the women next to me. True story. So we'll see if I succeed in blowing her off or if she wins. I promise video if the latter happens.
All of the things I feared about getting a physical...the imagined judgement, the shame, the news of impending sickness and doom? They were just that: fears.
Fears that I faced. Just like every fear before them, they proved to be way more horrifying in my head than they are in real life.
So if you are one of the many women out there who have been meaning to get into the doctor's office, but like me, keep finding new and creative ways to procrastinate? Follow my lead. Make that appointment.
Just remember...tie the gown in front.