Three words that just don't seem to fit well together in the world of healthcare:† men, medicine and modesty.† Just in time for Father's Day -- a post you might even forward to the man in your life!
There are two kinds of men in this world:† Men who take charge of their own healthcare -- and men who don't.
I mean healthcare in the broadest sense, perhaps in a few categories:
- Prevention -- taking those steps necessary to stay as healthy as possible:† eating good foods in the right amounts, exercising, keeping good hygiene, sleeping, laughing, and maintaining good emotional health.
- Pro-action -- taking those steps necessary to manage symptoms or health challenges, getting check-ups, and sticking up for themselves (self-advocating) in the face of healthcare system difficulties.
- Responsibility -- being preventive, pro-active, and understanding that maintaining his best health is a shared responsibility between a man and his doctor(s), requires shared decision-making and research using good resources (medical professionals and medical literature both.)
According to this article in the Wall Street Journal, too many men are falling short in these categories.† Too often, that is costing them their lives or at least the quality of their lives.† The article provides a host of reasons, and reading them over I picture many men I know who find it much easier to avoid healthcare all together than to deal with this set of responsibilities....
Hold that thought -- we're going to shift gears here, just for a moment.
Several months ago, one of this site's readers (who calls herself MinuteMoon) took me to task for writing too many of my blog posts and articles from a female point of view.† In particular, she raised the point of modesty -- that I was too inclined to talk about the issue of disrobing or wearing hospital gowns that won't close from the point of view of women.† That I should recognize that so often the nurses we encounter in a doctor's office are female and that it is equally as embarrassing to men to have to disrobe when females are around.
I agreed with her, and told her I would write about that one day.† So when this WSJ article came up, I realized these two problems are related -- that men aren't stepping up to the self-healthcare plate, and one reason is very likely this modesty issue.† The WSJ also cites the embarrassing nature of prostate and rectal exams - well-related to the question of modesty.
So let's examine that (no pun intended) for a moment...
Yes, I realize guys think differently from the female-me.† They don't want to appear weak or helpless.† They don't want to admit a problem exists they can't fix.† If they are embarrassed, just the fact that they are embarrassed is even more embarrassing, so they don't want to admit that either.† I get that!
From a man's point of view, he is stuck with a female nurse if that's who is available in the doctor's office. And to MinuteMoon's point, sometimes women are asked if they mind a male nurse -- but men are rarely (if ever?) given the same option. On the flip side, even though we women are probably used to male doctors, we can usually make a change to a female doctor if we so choose.† However, it's rare we'll find a male nurse in the doctor's office.† And it's highly unlikely, as we are choosing which doctors we want to work with, that we will know whether the nurses in any given medical office are male or female.
In the hospital, I think it's much more equal.† I even think some hospitals consider gender when they staff certain departments.† I know that when my dad had a heart attack and needed angioplasty, his nurse was male - and fantastic, too.
All that said -- and back to the original premise about men, medicine and modesty...† what we really need to do is shift the conversation to one of responsibility.† When it comes to our health and medical care, responsibility trumps modesty no matter what gender we are. For anyone, male or female, to avoid health or medical care because of embarrassment or modesty issues is not a responsible choice.
Further - if someone has early symptoms or warning signs, and chooses to ignore them because of something like modesty, that's just foolhardy.† If you don't have the where-with-all to handle your embarrassment now, how will be able to handle it when you get sicker and you need even more help?
My suggestions for you (if you're male) and the men in your life is this:
1.† Each patient, male and female, must take responsibility for his or her own medical decision making -- ranging from choice of doctors to choice of treatments and choice of adhering to that treatment.† No one else can do it for us.† Letting modesty or embarrassment overrule sound decision-making is irresponsible.
Irresponsible = weak.
Taking responsibility = strong.
2. We must also be responsible for the benefit of our loved ones.† Guys (or ladies) -- if you choose to avoid health or medical care because of modesty issues, it will have a negative affect on your health.† If you don't deal with symptoms, or if you end up with a chronic condition that is exacerbated by the fact that you aren't taking care of it, then you will die younger than† if you do take responsibility.
Dead = weak.
Alive and healthy = strong.
3.† Part of being healthy is emotional health (mentioned above.)† Part of emotional health is speaking up for yourself.† If you are modest or embarrassed or you believe the environment can change to accommodate for that in the doctor's office or hospital -- then speak up!† Say something!† Like my large busted, female friend who was handed a way-too-small exam room gown - thus asked for a larger one.† You can do that, too!
Not speaking up = weak.
Sticking up for yourself = strong.
So guys -- as you can see -- by avoiding these situations all together, you are really being much weaker than if you actually handle them and put them behind you.
And that's my message to you for Father's Day 2010.† Men!† Be preventive, pro-active and responsible when it comes to your healthcare. Teach your sons (and your daughters) about preventive, proactive and responsibility in their healthcare, too.
That's how to be strong.
(Find a follow up post to this here:† Men and Modesty - Revisited)
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