Usually when it came to dealing with my general health – I pretty much went with the “What you don’t know can’t hurt you” line of thinking. Probably not the best route to take but it generally worked for me. Maybe it was a state of denial – maybe it was a habit from my early days in the professional world of dance where you hid your physical weaknesses in order to hold down a job.
In my experience, I have found that there is a big difference between the doctors who treat physical injuries and the doctors who treat the whole body. The doctors that deal with physical injuries seem to be a bunch of fun-loving yahoos, while the general practice group comes off as overworked and humorless. I like the first group. I avoid the second. Part of that reaction stems from a control issue. You sprain your ankle – the doctor gives you his diagnosis and treatment recommendation – then – you do whatever you have to heal your own body. You can follow his recommendation to the letter, you can add some of your own home remedies into the recommended therapy, or you can ignore his opinion completely and do things your own way. It has always felt more like a collaboration. Except for the odd exception to the rule – I have found the doctors who treated my physical injuries to be a pretty open minded group of people – ready to listen to my opinions on how to fix the problem. I can’t say the same for the general practitioners.
I had just turned thirty-two and a couple of my friends were getting concerned about my health. I was into the crash and burn method of living – work hard, work a lot and continue working until the body gives out. I would work at a manic pace for months on end until one day my body would literally shut down, resulting in a total collapse that would incapacitate me for days or weeks. So what? – I’m a type A personality. Life is a “go, go, go”. Anyway – my friends finally convinced me that it was time to go to a doctor and get a real assessment of how my body was holding up. We finally found a doctor who was accepting new patients and I made my first GP appointment in fifteen years. My first impression of the doctor’s office wasn’t a good one. The waiting room was filled with sniffling and coughing children. How many people get sick just from waiting in a doctor’s waiting room? Also – why aren’t there any GPs who only deal with adult patients – you know – people who generally know how to use a tissue and know that they should cover their mouths when they hack? I was finally shown to the examination room where I met the doctor. She looked like a very pleasant woman – and then she opened her mouth and it was all downhill from there. We began with my general health history. When was the last time that I saw a doctor? “About fifteen years ago,” I told her. She pursed her lips in disapproval. We went over childhood illnesses. We went over my family history. Then she asked me what I did for exercise. “I’m a dancer,” I told her. “Yes,” she said, “But what do you do for exercise.” “I dance for a living,” I told her. “But what exercise do you do outside of that?” she asked me. I clenched my teeth and spoke very slowly and clearly, “I dance all day.” Can you believe that this woman asked me again what I did for exercise? I looked at her and said, “Look I’m not the person in this room with the obvious weight problem. Maybe we should be talking about your exercise program.” Needless to say – the rest of the examination did not go very well. Basically she told me that I was thirty-two and that I was going to die.
Our final conflict came when I asked her for an AIDS test. The woman looked horrified. True – at the time AIDS had just hit the world radar screen a few years before AND not a lot was known about the disease but still – the woman was a doctor! “Why do you think you need an AIDS test?” she asked me. “Look,” I said to her, “I work with people who have contracted the disease – some have died. They say it’s spread by bodily fluids. Dancers sweat, dancers get cut – just do the test.” She backed up towards the examining room door. I swear that if she thought that she could get away with it – she would have tossed me out of her office right then and there. She was probably afraid that I would infect all her sniveling and hacking pint-sized patients in the waiting room – simply by breathing the same air. She eventually arranged a blood test at a nearby AIDS clinic. She also scheduled me for a follow-up appointment with her. OK – maybe she wasn’t that awful. Still as far as I was concerned – the damage was done. “Look,” I said, “I don’t like you. You don’t like me. If you find out that I’m dying – call me. Other than that – I’m not coming back.”
Despite my earlier GP foray – I finally did end up with a good General practice doctor. Not right away – I waited another thirteen years. I had a pain in my chest. It felt like all the wind was knocked out of me and for the first time – I was worried. Not worried enough to stop what I was doing – which was a six hundred and sixty kilometer bike rally – but worried enough to think about the possibility of finding a doctor. Again my friends found me a doctor who was accepting new patients. This doctor was OK. She didn’t ask any stupid questions and she actually seemed to care. At the end of my initial examination, she asked me to take a couple routine tests – blood work and stuff like that. I started to brush her off when she stopped me mid-sentence. “If you’re not going to do what I ask you to do – then why did you bother coming to see me?” She had a point. We came to an agreement. I wouldn’t tell her how to do her job and she wouldn’t tell me how to do mine. Now when she tells me to go for tests – I go. Sometimes we disagree with the diagnosis like when I think I’m having issues with my heart and she insists it’s my lungs BUT generally we get along. I’m still not the best patient when it comes to annual check-ups. Actually I thought I was being pretty diligent when I made my most recent appointment – only to find that she had moved offices – three years ago – oops – maybe I haven’t been as diligent as I thought. Oh well – at least I’ve managed to get to the doctor within a decade.