When Dr. Sam said to me, “You’ve got the colon of a man half your age,” it was hard to keep from beaming. This must be how a mother feels when a complete stranger tells her how beautiful her new baby is.
Well, maybe not so much.
Still, it was hard not to feel proud of my big, fat, beautiful colon. It was like winning the Oscar for Best Digestive Organ. “I’d like to thank everyone who made this possible -- Mom and Dad for their genes, and especially all the little people, the antioxidants ...”
“Yes, that is one pretty colon -- don’t you think so, class?” I heard murmurs of approval, some polite applause. I am not beaming anymore. Not beaming at all. Here I am, exposed as a person can possibly be, and there’s an audience? What was going on?
I was lying on my left side, looking at a wall of tongue depressors, blood pressure cuffs, those flashlights they stick in your ears, boxes of rubber gloves and a gallon-sized plastic container for used needles. Sorry, I mean “sharps.”
I said, “I didn’t know this was a teaching hospital.”
“It’s not,” said Dr. Sam. “It’s my son’s fourth grade class from St. Celia’s. Say hello to Mr. Mullen, kids.”
“Hello, Mr. Mullen,” they said in unison.
“You’re their Show and Tell this week,” he said as he snapped off his rubber gloves.
“Excuse me, but isn’t there a privacy issue here?” I asked Dr. Sam. His real name is much longer, but he goes by Dr. Sam. He told me once that his full name means “Smith” in Urdu.
“Certainly there is a privacy issue. It would be very inappropriate for you to know the names of the children. We have to respect their privacy at all costs.”
“I was really thinking about my privacy.”
“But you signed the blue form. You should really read things before you go around signing them. You didn’t sign the green one, did you? Because that means you’ve volunteered to donate a kidney to Keith Richards.”
“Tell me you’re joking.”
“Of course, I’m joking. Everyone knows he’ll need a new liver before he needs a new kidney. And stop worrying about the kids. They were watching a separate video of a colonoscopy; I just told them it was yours. It gets their attention. Trust me, once you’ve seen one colon, you’ve seen them all. It’s not like they saw you naked or anything.
“I didn’t want to scare them, I just don’t want these kids to go through life thinking that there’s something embarrassing about getting a colonoscopy. I don’t want them to wait 17 years between checkups, the way you did. People have got to learn that a physical exam is as natural as breastfeeding a baby on a bus.”
“What bus have you been riding?”
“Don’t be silly, I drive a Jaguar. It was just a figure of speech. You can put your clothes back on now.”
Why bother? I thought. He’s seen places on me that I haven’t. Maybe more people would get physicals if the doctors had to take off their clothes every time they asked you to take off yours. My nudity comfort level is very low. I don’t even wear shorts in the summer.
Why do men wait so long before going to the doctor? Probably because when they do go, they spend half their time saying, “You want to do what to my what?!” and “You don’t reuse these cups, do you?”
But when you think about it, the doctors are going to examine you once you get sick, and it’s going to be just as embarrassing then as it is when you’re healthy. So you may as well suck up your pride and go.
Or you could get one of those do-it-yourself at-home screening tests for those ultra-personal exams. I got one, and it came with a disposable spork and a cotton swab. Wait five minutes and if it turns green, you go back to work on Monday. If it turns red, you start maxing out your MasterCard.
At least Dr. Sam gives you more choices.
(Contact Jim Mullen at firstname.lastname@example.org.)