If statistics are to be believed, men as a group, prefer to avoid doctors and perhaps more generally all of us in medically related fields. This has certainly also been my experience. A few times a year a man (or if the truth be told, a woman) will come in to see me just so I can look over what he is eating and taking to be sure he is up to date and doing the best for himself. I often catch myself looking at these people adoringly thinking this is so wonderful. They are taking care of themselves and being proactive. How rare. How inspirational. Prevention is so much more fun then disaster relief.
Sadly, most of us do not operate this way, especially those of the male persuasion. There was a book about this written a number of years ago by a physician’s wife. She relayed the story of how she had to force her husband, who was a cardiologist to go to the hospital because it was clear to her that he was having a heart attack. “I am fine,” he argued. But she was correct.
According to my husband, a self appointed expert on all guy things, being male and all, this attitude is completely understandable. “Men do not like to be seen as weak,” he explained as if it was patently obvious. “They will put up with a lot to keep up the appearance of strength.”
“How do they feel about dead?” I asked innocently at which point he suddenly developed an acute hearing problem.
Over the years I have noticed that most men come to see me for one of three reasons. First, and most popular, they are dragged kicking and screaming by a concerned loved one. Second, they have big complicated situations that have gotten so out of hand even they realize they have to do something. And my personal favorite, they come in with someone else and three minutes before the end of the session they want to know if they ask a “quick” question, really it is just a little thing they assure me. Is there anything they can do about the diarrhea they have had for the last ten years or this rash that covers their whole body and has confounded a gaggle of dermatologists?
You think I am exaggerating but this last situation happened recently. Alan came in with his wife who was the designated patient. I thought I was being clever and a full ten minutes before the end of the session, I anticipated there might be an issue and inquired if I could ask the gentleman a question. “Sure,” Alan replied.
“What are you doing about that rash?” I asked.
“Which one?” his wife cut in. “Lift up your shirt and show her, honey,” she cajoled apparently very happy that I had opened the subject.
I am not a dermatologist, but could see at least three different types of rashes. “If this was not so clearly irritating to you, “ I commented, “this would be fascinating. Look there is a ring worm,” I said pointing to a perfectly round red circle with a clear center. And there were hundreds, possibly thousands of little papules. “I wonder what they are from?” I mumbled thinking out loud. “These rough spots look like essential fatty acid deficiency,” I remarked pointing to several sand paper areas. “Though I bet that was diagnosed as keratosis pilaris.”
Keratosis pilaris (“chicken skin”) was indeed one of many diagnoses he had received over the years. Apparently, the numerous dermatologists and specialists he had consulted through the years were no longer fascinated and had given up on trying to unravel the situation, as had he.
Luckily, I am not a doctor and this allows me the freedom to take chances and say things that otherwise I would have to keep to myself to maintain decorum. “You must be miserable,” I blurted out. Alan responded with a shrug. “We have to do something about this,” I continued as if he had not been trying to fix the situation for years.
I assumed he had been tested for allergies. Alan confirmed he had and nothing significant had been found. I next asked if he ever found anything that had made it better or worse. His skin was obviously sensitive and his wife was careful with soaps and detergents she bought. Unfortunately, while some products used topically could make him worse, nothing he avoided in particular made him better. He had tried great numbers of ointments and salves through the years but nothing corrected the problem. Presently, he used moisturizers when he remembered or was particularly dry.
Since there were no clues in his dermatology history, I started asking about other symptoms (that might be related) and reviewed his children's medical histories. The original person I saw in his family was his son and he turned out to hold the answer to the mystery. To be continued……