“Ok, ok, ok. I’ll go next week.”
The scenario usually plays out the same way every time.
We’ll have some mysterious aliment. A sore throat. A strained back. A “more painful than it was last night” ankle sprain from playing basketball the day before.
We’ll attempt to grit though this discomfort, but a woman in our lives — a wife, a daughter, a female coworker — will notice our winces, and suggest that we see a doctor.
Our typical response? “I’m fine. Don’t worry about it.”
Fast-forward three days. The discomfort hasn’t subsided. In fact, it may have even gotten worse. We still think we’re fine, but a teeny bit of doubt begins to surface, and the suggestion to see someone becomes a directive.
“Look, if you don’t see a doctor soon, I’ll just schedule the appointment myself and drag you there.”
While this change in tone largely has to do with them being genuinely concerned with our health, a part of it is also due to the fact they’ve become (understandably) annoyed with all of our grunting, limping, wincing, and Advil-popping, and they want us to do something about it.
After another two days, we’re still not getting better; we still haven’t seen a doctor; and our girlfriend/wife’s tone has gone from annoyed to genuinely pissed off.
“I’m tired if you limping around the house. If you don’t get an x-ray on your bum ankle soon, I’m literally going to break your good one.”
We finally “relent” with “Ok, ok, ok. I’ll go next week” — but our promise to see a doctor is more about getting the decidedly non-male people in our lives off our backs than actually seeing what’s wrong.
Now, this self-defeating state of mind can be partially blamed on socialization.
We learned “Suck it up and stop crying like a girl” before we even got to our ABC’s. We see how whiny boys get picked on by other kids, how girls/women go for the ‘strong, silent type,” how athletes who play through pain are deified, and we attempt to adopt those characteristics.
Through this develops a misplaced sense of male pride that manifests as an inane reluctance to acknowledge any pain or potential injury — almost as if we think it’s honorable to “play through pain,” conveniently forgetting that our favorite quarterback, the one who valiantly fought through his injury, had to see three specialists and be injected with horse tranquilizers before he was allowed back on the field.
Also, I have to say that fear plays a large part in this reluctance to seek medical care. While certain biological and physiological factors make it paramount that young girls and women get check-ups on a regular basis, a man can easily go a few years without entering a doctor’s office. Perhaps this (relative) lack of familiarity creates a fear of doctors that women don’t seem to possess.
Lastly (and this is something I can personally attest to), sometimes we’re just scared to death of hearing the truth. What if that ankle really is broken? What if that sore back is due to some permanent muscle aliment? What if that persistent morning headache is actually a brain tumor? Of course it makes more sense to go to the doctor and find out the truth, but sometimes we think that sticking our heads in the sand will make it eventually go away. Who knew that the gender that prides itself on being “Kings Of The Jungle” actually have more in common with giraffes?
Still, regardless of the reasoning behind it, our “doctor’s office issues” aren’t a laughing matter. Each year thousands of men die because of they refuse to see a doctor.
Men are 24 percent less likely than women to have visited a doctor within the past year; 22 percent more likely to have neglected their cholesterol tests; 28 percent more likely than women to be hospitalized for congestive heart failure; 32 percent more likely than women to be hospitalized for long-term complications of diabetes; more than twice as likely than women to have a leg or foot amputated due to complications related to diabetes; and 24 percent more likely than women to be hospitalized for pneumonia that could have been prevented by getting an immunization, according to the Agency on Healthcare Research and Quality.
Because of that men live five years less than women and have higher death rates for each of the top 10 causes of death.
As we begin 2012, perhaps we should remove “I’m going to the Super Bowl this year” from the top of our New Year’s resolutions and place “I’m going to make (and keep) a doctor’s appointment” there instead.
May not seem like the sexiest or most ambitious goal to have, but what’s the point of making a “to-do” list if you don’t make certain you’re healthy enough to complete it?
Damon Young is the co-author of Your Degrees Won’t Keep You Warm at Night, and the co-founder of VerySmartBrothas.com — an award-winning blog recently named to Ebony Magazine’s Power 100. Young is also the head editor of The Hill Review — a literary magazine founded and funded by the August Wilson Center for African-American Culture. A graduate of Canisius College (English B.A.), his work has been featured in numerous publications, including The Washington Post, The Root, Essence Magazine, The Huffington Post, NPR News, Jet Magazine, Black Enterprise, The Good Men Project, Clutch Magazine, and Madame Noire. He resides in Pittsburgh, Pa.