There is something quite strange about us men, at least when it comes to health care.
I realize I’ll be speaking in stereotypes here, and there are obvious exceptions, but for the most part, men don’t look after themselves the way they should. After years of youth sports, perhaps we have become convinced that we can just ‘walk it off,’ even if it’s a big pain in the chest or it feels like someone is shoving a sword up our innards when we head to the bathroom five times a night.
Personally, I plead guilty to manly indifference to regular routines of health care. I can’t really say why my fellow men have similar tendencies because, quite frankly, we don’t talk much about it.
That’s perhaps the first difference between our gender and the more health-responsible other one – we just don’t open up much about our health, so it’s off everyone’s radar.
On the odd occasion that I have mentioned something amiss to my wife, she has gotten upset, resulting in two outcomes. The first is that she stews about my health at the risk of her own health. Since I don’t want to kill her worrying about me, I don’t tell her much. The second problem is that she forces me to go to a doctor and find out what’s wrong.
There’s an element of risk-taking to the male psyche that measures life more by quality than quantity. This might well explain why the Jackass television series and movies had all-male casts. Taking stupid risks, for the sake of the adrenaline rush that comes with it, is a pretty typical male behaviour.
I would also suggest that patience is not generally associated with high levels of testosterone, yet the health care process takes buckets of it. I have, on more than one occasion, walked out on medical appointments when I have spent more than an hour in a waiting room. I should know better, and not schedule a day around a medical appointment, but it’s not in my nature to put aside the better part of a day to sit reading magazines that are two years old.
Add to this the fact that any discovery of an issue might lead to several more appointments, and there’s a problem getting a male commitment to that kind of process. Waiting is not our strength.
A couple of years ago I discovered, after a required physical exam for a commercial driving licence, that I had an aggressive form of prostate cancer. What ensued was a six-month travesty of appointments, treatment, missed work and marital issues that could have given me a heart attack.
Sure, the rational side of me knew that seeking treatment was the right thing to do, but the manly side struggled with the process, the losses, the vulnerability and the anxiety of others. My job was to provide for others, not to be a worry to them.
I haven’t learned my lesson, despite my hypocritical advice to others to get regular examinations and monitor their health. Having returned five years ago from a decade living out of the country, I have yet to find a family physician taking on new patients and that’s just fine with me. I eat reasonably well, get enough exercise to pretend I’m in decent physical condition, and I’m using the internet to do self-diagnosis whenever I feel something odd. I clear the ‘history’ of my internet surfing so my wife doesn’t see what I have been researching.
Short of running around in the woods in a loincloth with a spear and a drum, I am living life large as a man. I certainly don’t recommend it for everyone, but when I hear the regular survey results that indicate men don’t take care of themselves as well as they should, I can fully relate to that.
Graham Hookey writes on education, parenting and eldercare.