This might be even scarier than going to the dentist.
I recently changed primary care physicians. One of my main reasons: I want a doctor who is younger than I am, who is up on all the tech and the research and the new developments.
Fortunately, I found one who meets the trifecta: accepts our flavor of insurance, was accepting new patients, and I didn’t have to wait six months to get in for a physical. The good fortune continued, because she both has a sense of humor and appreciates my sense of humor. Not everyone does. Shocking, but true. There are people out there who don’t think I’m the least bit amusing. I can provide you with references.
New patient visits are always fun, where they ask about your family history and you have to report on the physical and mental states of your parents and any siblings. High cholesterol? Check. High blood pressure? Check. Diabetes? Check. Cancer? Check.
That last one rang the bell. I lost my brother this year to melanoma, and my heart still hurts. The doctor immediately wanted to know if I was seeing a dermatologist for a full skin check every year. I said I wasn’t, but I would.
The front desk staff at new doc’s office is terrific. Friendly and full of good cheer. Her nurse is terrific and funny. (Are you getting the feeling that humor plays a key role in my life?) Furthermore, I’d like to go on record stating that I love my dentist and his office staff as well. They treat me like a giant frightened child, which is essentially what I devolve to with anything more complicated than getting my teeth cleaned. The tech who did my latest mammogram? Chipper and cheerful. My daughters’ pediatrician? They’ve always made us feel like family. My optometrist is the bomb.
(Cue the ominous music.)
So I make an appointment and off I trot to the dermatologist’s office. When I arrive, I find a sleek, brass-filled glass-walled waiting area that looks like a Hollywood set. Lots of ads for cosmetic treatments (free consultation!). Magazines about golf, tennis and fashion. Not a People or an US Weekly anywhere in sight.
I check in, dutifully hand in the paperwork I did ahead of time, and take a seat. The waiting room is full of lithe, blonde teenage girls and women with beautifully coiffed hair who look like they haven’t eaten a carb since the 80s. On the far side of the waiting area sits one gray-haired gentleman with a little adhesive bandage on his nose.
I’m not even sure this is a doctor’s office.
The nurse comes out to get me and leads me back to the exam room. I sit in one of the chairs, wondering why there’s a blue plank in the room. The nurse asks why I’m here today.
At this point, I wonder if anyone in the entire medical profession knows how to read. I just wrote the reason for my visit in at least three different spots on the paperwork. Why do I have to write the equivalent of a masters thesis on every wart my family’s ever had if nobody is going to read it.
Full body check, I say.
“You’ll need to take of your clothes, put on the gown and sit on the exam chair.” She gestures to the gown on the blue plank. “The more skin we can see, the better the exam will be, but you can leave on undergarments if you wish. When you’ve changed, crack the door open so we’ll know at a glance that you’re ready for us to come in.”
Crack the door open? I’ll have to think about that.
I take off my dress and my bra. The incipient panic attack rattling through my skull makes me decide to keep my panties on. These are my big girl panties, I think. I will retain them and I will deal.
I pick up the gown. I shake it out. I shake harder, but there’s no more gown to be had. It looks so small. Must be the terror making everything (except my thighs) shrink. For a full minute I stand there with it in my hands, because I can’t remember if the nurse said to have the opening in the front or in the back.
I decide the opening shall be in the front. That will give me something to clutch. Except…I slide it over my arms and try to pull the edges closed. There is approximately enough material to cover half of me. Tugging and swearing did not make the garment any larger. Or my curves less luscious.
I perch on the edge of the blue plank, which vaguely resembles a weight bench. The lack of back support forces me to sit up straight, at which point I can clutch the gown mostly closed over the girls. When I look down, I realize leaving the panties on was a grand idea, because the toddler-sized gown parts at my waist and falls away like a cape.
I was supposed to crack open the door. Perhaps they could learn to knock, like every other doctor on the planet? I gingerly turn the knob and pull the door inward the tiniest fraction, so I can tell myself I followed the rules. Then I sit on the blue plank, tugging and yanking at this piece of cotton that’s barely large enough to qualify as a fabric swatch, covering various portion of my anatomy and wondering which would be the least horrific for the doctor to be confronted with.
The doctor (who of course hasn’t read any of the paperwork, either) and the nurse finally come in. The doctor wants to shake my hand when we meet, but I give her a brusque nod so I can maintain the completely illusory facade of dignity.
She refers to the blue plank as an exam chair. I’ve seen wider pieces of pasta. She begins by examining my scalp, calling out her findings to the nurse, who is tapping away on the computer screen. She quickly exams the frontal portion of my anatomy, explaining a little of her terminology to me as she goes.
“Please lean back in the chair.” I incorrectly assume that referring to the plank as a chair is a sign of humor. I lean back.
She pulls out a remote, and the plank hums and reclines. “When it’s flat, I want you to roll over onto your stomach.”
Blank stare from me. “You want me to what?” She might as well have asked me to perform eyeball surgery on myself. I’m supposed to somehow levitate myself over without strangling on my cape? I managed to keep from blurting out, “Are you fucking kidding me?”
She had the grace to look at her notes while I lumbered and thrashed myself over. She then gave the back half of me a look-see, and pronounced me free of brooding bumps and suspicious spots. She thrust a brochure about skin care into my hands, causing the gown to gape open again.
“Well, this is embarrassing,” I said.
“Not to worry.”
“You do realize I had to sit here, naked and terrified, waiting to meet you for the very first time while wearing a gown that wouldn’t cover an average grade schooler.”
Finally, something got through to her. She stopped and looked at me. “We have bigger gowns.” She turned to the nurse. “Don’t we have bigger gowns?”
The nurse nodded.
“Next time, just ask for a larger gown.” And she was gone.
So I didn’t get to point out that by the time one discovers the lack of coverage involved with a particular gown, the nurse is long gone. She doesn’t hang about chatting you up as you unbutton, unzip and unhook, offering to lend a hand with recalcitrant zippers and stubborn bra clasps.
I will go back next year. Cancer is the evil lurker in the dark, and I can suffer a little embarrassment to stay out of its devouring jaws. Heck, this didn’t hurt as much as the mammogram (squeeze), and it’s much less invasive than the annual pelvic exam (“Could you scoot down a little more?”)
At least I’ll know to ask for a larger gown-shaped fabric swatch.