Monday, July 14, 2008

Humor Me: An appointment men hate

(Note: This is my column from a special section on men's health in The Dallas Morning News.)

By MATT WIXON
The Dallas Morning News

A Harris Interactive survey last year revealed that many American men don’t go to the doctor for preventive care.

Maybe “revealed” isn’t the best way to describe the survey’s results. It seems more of a confirmation of common knowledge, such as “babies are cute” and “cancer is bad.”

We know most guys don’t go to the doctor. If it’s an emergency, sure. And if it involves sexual dysfunction, well, that qualifies as an emergency darn near Code Blue. But for other health matters, ignorance is bliss and doesn’t involve sitting in a waiting room reading a Reader’s Digest from 2006.

Ignorance isn’t always healthy, however. Here’s a good example:

Colon cancer to is expected to kill nearly 50,000 Americans this year. But the Center for Disease Control estimates that 60 percent of colon cancer deaths could be prevented if all men and women age 50 and over were screened for it.

I won’t hit 50 anytime soon, but I’m guilty of health indifference. Men my age – 36 and toeing the line between “dude” and “sir” – are encouraged to have a physical exam every few years. But I can’t remember my last one.

I think it was in high school, when I was required to have a physical before trying out for the basketball team. Since then, my main barometers of wellness have been the bathroom scale and the blood bank telling me I’m healthy enough to donate.

One day, I fear, I’ll get seriously injured or ill. Then I’ll be asked, “Who is your primary care physician?”

Uh … I guess it’s my wife. She doesn’t have a medical degree, but she knows where we keep the Tylenol and the first-aid kit.

Makes me feel foolish when I think about it. But I’m not alone, and I know one reason why.

To men, going to the doctor is a sign of weakness. It doesn’t fit with what we were taught as boys -- to tough it out, be strong and independent. We hate asking for help, whether we’re struggling with a home repair, financial matter or pain in our chest.

That’s why men love maps and GPS navigation systems. They provide help without having to ask for it. Perhaps the greatest medical breakthrough for men would be a GPS that points to exactly what is wrong with our health. In high-definition, of course, with a cool remote control.

For now, men need to see a doctor to navigate toward better health. And maybe more men would do that if a doctor’s office made a few changes.

You know the haircut places that target men as customers? They have a sports-themed environment, televisions tuned to sports and not one Ladies Home Journal in the magazine racks.

The same could be done at a “just for men” doctor’s office. Put a game on the TV, give the waiting room a masculine feel and have the receptionist say, “Please sign in and tell me about how you were a great high school athlete.” Maybe electrocardiogram results could be printed out like a baseball box score.

It’s crazy, I know. But for guys who neglect their health, it might be a home run. It could get more of us to the doctor, and that way, we would reduce the risk of our health striking out early.

At the very least, we’d know the next pitch coming our way.

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