November 17, 2020

Humor helps dealing with medical-exam indignities

           Urologists. Men, you know what I’m talking about. If you want to be properly screened for prostate issues, you must deal with the indignity of that examination. Prostate cancer is common, and the best treatment comes following early detection.

            Women, menfolk should be grateful for the indignities you must endure to keep your health in check. Our discomfort or embarrassment in the exam room is minor compared to yours. I’ve heard about your procedures, but now I can speak firsthand about one uncomfortable experience—a mammogram.

            That’s right. I visited a hospital’s breast-health center. 


            When my doctor and I were wrapping up our conversation—after my physical—I said, “Ahhh, Doc, please take a look at this.”

            I pulled up my T-shirt and pointed to my left breast. “There’s a lump here,” I said. “What about it?” He felt the hard spot and then measured it. “I think the safe thing is to have a mammogram,” he said. “Men do get breast cancer, too.”

            The “C” word had my attention, but I explained how I thought the knot came to be. Working on the farm, I was lifting a trailer’s heavy metal tailgate.

It slipped and—like a dull hatchet—chopped one side of my chest. I winced and forgot it until showering a few days later. The lump was obvious.

            He nodded and said, “That sounds plausible, but I still want you to have a mammogram.” Not long thereafter, I was sitting in a waiting room full of women. They didn’t ask why, and I didn’t tell.

            There is nothinglaughable about cancer. Too many loved ones—family and friends—have been tortured and died from the terrible disease. But when I am subjected to indignities of medical exams, I lean on my sense of humor to buffer the angst. I watched my dad—dying of prostate cancer that metastasized to his bones—laugh when he could have cried. I took note.

            I believe his reliance on self-depreciating humor was his way of coping with agony andgrief. Having served as a medic in World War II, followed by his decades as a funeral director, he had to have a stress-relief valve. Big Dink had a backbone of steel and a compassionate heart. Humor was his shock absorber. He liked to laugh, especially at himself.

            That’s why I am grateful for the medical technician who made me chuckle, seconds after I walked into the exam room. She quipped, “I know this is our firstdate, but you need to take your shirt off.”Fifteen words. That’s all it took for me to relax and stand waist-up naked.

            The good news is that the mammogram and the ultrasound didn’t show any cause for concern. The troublesome spot is gradually shrinking, but they want me to come back in a month for one more check. Just to be sure.

            Ladies and gentlemen, I repeat: “There’s nothing funny about cancer of any kind.” But as I was watching the technician struggle to mash my flat chest for a mammogram reading, I thought about what my mother called “sweater personality.” Dolly Parton has more than her share. Mother had next to none.

            One day Margie sent Big Dink to buy her a couple of bras from Sullivan’s.

            “What size?” he asked.

            “Oh, they’ll know,” she said.

            Well, the new clerk didn’t know and asked, “Maybe the size of a grapefruit?”

            “Oh, no.”

            “How about an orange?”

            “Oh, no.”

            “What about a lemon?”

            “Oh, no.”

            “Uh, what about an egg?

            “Yes, fried.