When I was in my grad program, I started feeling pain in my
groin. I didn’t remember doing anything stressful to it and it sure wasn’t due
to an overabundance of sex. I had no real insurance to speak of, so I went to
the student health center on campus, where I described my symptoms to the very
nice man who was there to help me.
He wrote down some things, looked up a few things on his
computer and said, “It might be an infection or it might be a problem with your
prostate. We’ll need to do an exam.”
Unfortunately, I knew what that meant: bend over and wait
for The Finger. I reassessed this very nice man and noticed that his hands looked
like he was wearing two baseball gloves. His fingers looked like they were made
of radiator hose and his nails looked like Freddie Krueger had lent him some
apparel. Still, the thought of a tumor growing in my ass had me face down on a
table, feeling the cool touch of KY.
“You’re going to feel some pressure,” he explained. That was
putting it mildly. I realized at that moment that if I were gay, I would need
to be celibate or at least always be the giver. This was, by far, the least
pleasant experience of my life and if there were any other options to avoid
this, I totally would have taken it. In fact, when I recently went to the
doctor and asked about when I’d need to have another prostate exam, (I was told
by several friends I was “of that age” where I’d need one) he said we could
avoid it for another five years. I gladly did so.
I thought about this experience when reading about the
recent study on mammograms and how a panel of experts now thinks that women
between 40 and 49 shouldn’t be getting one as a matter of course. Then, it
should be every two years. Of all the experiences I’ve heard women complain
about, mammograms and pap smears are the two that come up most often. “The car
jack” as The Missus calls it, is apparently uncomfortable and obnoxious, but it
pales in comparison to the breast pancake.
The magic of science coupled with the tender touch of the
Marquis de Sade means you get flattened, squished and yanked around by the
boob. In the old days, you had to panic for a few weeks until they came back
with the results. Digital technology means that you no longer have to wait
forever for the results, but the women I know who have been screened tell me
they start panicking a couple weeks before and probably about up to a week
after. In short, this is not like a John Mayer concert: people aren’t lining up
for tickets around the block.
When I was a kid, my mother was a smoker. She made the
argument that she only smoked seven each day and that it wasn’t going to kill
her. When she had her first mammogram at the age of 40, they noticed
abnormalities. They weren’t enough to kill her, but they did tests to make sure
she didn’t have cancer. She ended up being cancer-free, but the experience was
enough to make her quit smoking. Say what you want about that, but I’d argue
that the mammogram added years to her life without actually doing anything.
Friends who have gone through this have said they probably
wouldn’t do this unless it was required. In short, by giving people the option
to avoid something unpleasant, we pretty much assure they will take that
option. Insurance companies that say now “Oh, there’s no WAY we’d not cover
something like this if women want them” are a) banking on the fact that fewer
women will have them if they are not required and b) staying out of the shit
storm until this all dies down and they can quietly start to erode the benefits
when no one is looking.
People believe doctors. It’s in our nature in a lot of ways.
When the doc says, “Here take this pill,” I take it. I don’t ask a whole hell
of a lot of questions. When he says, “You need this,” I get it. The man went
through medical school while I’m only a “doctor of paper” (as The Missus says).
When you’ve got a panel of doctors saying that in a cold, simple calculation of
how there’s likely cancer in some of these cases caught in the 40s, but the
stuff won’t grow fast enough to kill people, that borders on criminal. People
will hear the sound bite: “You don’t need this if you’re in your 40s” and
How many of these women will die before another panel says,
“Yeah, sorry. Bad call” and moves the marker again?