Thursday, October 25, 2012

I hate the doctor, and I don't want to go



The title sums it all up. I hate doctors. When have they done anything good for me? Every time I go, it turns out to be "nothing".

So should I conclude that it will always be "nothing"? The "it hasn't happened up to now, so it won't happen in the future" philosophy sucks rocks because it's illogical. It simply isn't true.

I am at the age - God, I hate that word - where I maybe need to worry. This is the time people are told to have screening tests like colonoscopies (which I always call colostomies by mistake - I freaked out a friend once by telling her I was supposed to have one) which scare me half to death because I've been told they can be agonizingly painful. One health forum had a comment from someone who said she would take her chances with serious disease rather than go through that again.


 

My husband collapsed on the floor about a year ago, and paramedics and police rushed over. Made me wonder why everyone ignores me when I have a medical problem, but then, he's male and considerably older than me. It might be heart disease, after all (because we all know women don't have heart attacks!). In the hospital they put him through a meat grinder, doing every possible diagnostic test on him. The follow-up was even more rigorous, cardiac, neurological, urological, bowel and guts and everything else they could ream out.

The result was exactly nothing.

So I don't want to go to the doctor. I don't want to go to the doctor because I've had some symptoms lately that are probably nothing, but at the same time scare the hell out of me.


 

It's funny, because Bill and I have talked about how we can't afford to live as long as our parents did (all four them were well over 90). In fact, we may have trouble affording our 70s. We've joked that if we make it to 80, we'll kill each other, kind of like a duel where we both shoot at once. But what if he misses, and I don't? Will I be charged with murder, or merely self-defense?

It doesn't sound good.

I think about cancer, everyone does, or do they? I don't know, I don't interview everyone in the world, or on the street. The thing is, people with cancer are usually seen as heroes, brave souls who keep smiling no matter how much it hurts. In contrast, don't ever get a psychiatric problem or you will be more or less seen as a fuckup. No one will visit you in the hospital with flowers and balloons because it's your own freaking fault you're there. Their ancient, deeply-buried dread of demonic possession will keep them away. But cancer, now! There's a great opportunity for bravery, for heroism, for stoicism in the face of pain, and lots and lots of warm get-well wishes.


 

Do I sound just a little bit cynical? I have my reasons.

I don't think I have cancer. So why go? I have this niggling worry. Shouldn't I ignore it? Do I want to be called a hypochondriac? But how can you be a hypochondriac if you hate doctors and stay away for years at a time?

There is something cold and frightening about the medical assembly line, the way you come out the other end feeling like dressed meat ready for the oven. There is a "NEXT!" feeling that only seems to get worse over the years. Too many patients, not enough time, because the equipment is absurdly expensive, the tests take forever and suck up resources, and it's usually for nothing. After all, somebody important might come in.

But we are stuck with it. In the past, if you had cancer, you just died. Probably horribly, because there wasn't even a good way to manage pain. Unlike today, when it's the banner illness that has spawned a million fundraising walks in every color of the rainbow, it was heavily stigmatized: people didn't even say the name. Probably this was fear, a dread that "something" had taken you over, colonized your body and was eating away at you beyond your control. This "something" would suck out the marrow from your bones, cause you to waste away to a skeleton, and probably drive away all but the most loyal family members who probably prayed that it would all be over soon.




All kinds of stuff has been written about illness, its social and emotional significance, etc. Usually the sufferer is blamed for not having it all together emotionally, for having "unresolved issues" (as if everyone doesn't have those). I wonder now if it isn't just bloody bad luck. Have you noticed how unevenly luck and blessings are distributed in life? Ain't it a bitch, and don't you wish it was different? People still get sick and die, in spite of all that fancy equipment. I've had five friends die in the last few years, and three of them were only in their mid-50s. One who was exactly my age at the time pulled his truck over, opened the door, and fell to the ground dead. Perhaps his fate was better than the woman who battled breast cancer for years, or Glen, one of the most beautiful men I have ever known, who escaped from a psych ward, swallowed a bottle of pills, and was found frozen to death beside the railroad tracks.



Oh, and that's another thing: the war imagery we use, especially for cancer. She "battled" breast cancer, she "waged a valiant struggle", and sometimes she "triumped" or scored a "victory" over it. I wonder why we do this. No one questions it, and when no one questions something I just get furious because we are PEOPLE, not cattle! My feeling has always been that you should question everything, especially loony social trends. The war imagery not only renders the sufferer especially valuable for being a "good soldier" (and we still think the military is special, no matter what anyone says), it places the whole thing at a safe, fictionalized distance, as if we're watching a World War II movie on TV or going to the Cenotaph for 45 minutes to watch old men stand in the rain.

Ah, the stoicism, the smiling in the face of doom. I wonder why people feel they have to do this, why it has become such a cultural imperative. If I had cancer, I think I'd raise bloody hell and be so hard to get along with, NO ONE would come visit me (a situation I should be used to by now). Then again, maybe I'd be terrified. I know I would not be stoical. I'd be shit-scared and probably miserable from all the clinical attention, the being fed through machines with no one talking to you.




I've heard it said that quite often, when you get your diagnosis, the doctor comes in the room, says to the patient "you have cancer", then turns and leaves. If I don't go, I won't hear that, will I? These guys are sons-of-bitches, aren't they? Are there any good ones? Well, OK, my brother-in-law, he's a Gunning man and as far as I'm concerned they're all great, but he lives all the way across the country.

If I don't go, I don't need to hear any of that shit. But if I don't go, this little scritchy-scrabbly feeling in my gut may not stop for a long time. If ever.


6 comments:

  1. I hate to even read about going to the doctor or about not being able to afford living in my 70s. I'll be 71 in December, and soon thereafter my only reliable income will be Social Security and a pittance of a pension from my journalism career. So I read this as far as I could get without breaking out in hives...

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  2. I won't fill out an organ donor card because I'm afraid someone will come to the door to collect my heart or liver before I'm through with them.

    No, I'm not kidding! I've heard of this in the third world. My husband thinks I'm insane.

    I can see them now, with a bucket. . .

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  3. They carry those plastic Igloo coolers and they smile with their teeth but not their eyes.

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  4. They remove the ORGANS with their teeth. More sanitary.

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  5. So THAT's why they never hire zombies for the job!

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  6. And it gives a whole new meaning to "I Left my Heart in San Francisco".

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