…how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable…”
I went in for a physical Tuesday. Some of you may have an idea why, the rest of you will learn why very soon. It’s “for a good cause”. I happily endured the indignities of the clinic where our family doctor plies her trade. I was told to arrive fifteen minutes early so I could fill out paperwork. I did, and finished the paperwork by the time my appointment was scheduled. It was half an hour before I was called. No worries. There were plenty of magazines. I read an article in Travel and Leisure (which refers to itself now as T+L) about how to go about securing an Italian villa or a cottage in Britain for your vacation. About the time I was trying to figure out where we could get enough friends to make $4000 – $11,000 (USD) per week for a villa in Tuscany work out to be “a value”, a young woman, a nurse I guess, came out to escort me back to the examination rooms.
Nurses don’t wear white anymore, I’ve noticed, not even in hospitals. It is surely outdated of me to be nostalgic about that, and I’m sure that the white dress, white stockings, and heeled shoes that comprise the classic Western nurse costume were ordained at some point long ago by a group of men in accordance with male fantasies about being cared for by a nurturing, angelically white, vaguely maternal figure who was kind of a hottie, too. I’m just assuming. But the dirty sneakers peaking out from under the floppy blue pantlegs of the scrubs now commonly worn felt a little like a signal that my well-being was held as a lower priority than whatever purpose was served by this more work-friendly attire. The shoes, especially, seemed to be the tail of the wolf sticking out of grandma’s bathrobe, the giveaway. This young woman had been playing frisbee or riding her bike earlier, these shoes said, and had just managed to don the blue costume in time to come out and call me. Yes, I am an old male with habituated sexism and stereotypes and wrongthink, but when I am in the vulnerable place of being treated or examined physically, I like the idea of a nurse being presented as a person whose sole purpose is my comfort and care. The uniform is reassuring even when considered apart from the (possibly) sexual aspects of its origins. Even if it was a male nurse, it would be nice if he didn’t look like he were about to slide under a car. The casual nature of the scrubs makes me feel either as if my visit interferes in the very busy schedule of people whose work is arcane and incomprehensible to me, or as if I am merely a body to be poked at, an assemblage of mechanical parts that has thrown an error message that needs to be puzzled through.
After measuring my height (six foot and a half inch — which means I’ve lost half an inch of stature at some point, unless height measurement machines have a calibration error?) and my weight (170, wow!, I remember when I could barely keep 140 pounds on myself), she sat me down in an exam room and took my blood pressure. One-seventeen over eighty, right in there. Then she asked me all the same questions I had just finished answering on paper in the waiting room. She entered the answers into a computer pad she carried. I did not ask why I had been asked to write down the answers to those questions if she was going to ask them and enter the data electronically on her pad. I assumed there was a good reason. She left me with a cleanly laundered and crisply folded smock with a green print pattern, noting as she walked out that “we’ll need everything off” and that the smock’s opening should be at the back.
A shiver went through me, but I disrobed as cheerfully as possible (socks too?, I worried), put the smock over me, tied it shut at the back, and then sat in the chair again. The only magazine in this room was WebMD, which had a tagline of “The Magazine Created for Your Doctor’s Office”. A photo of Julia Louise Dreyfus was on the cover. I like Julia Louise Dreyfus, but I did not walk over to the plastic magazine holder affixed to the wall to retrieve the magazine. I sat wondering whether the “Your” in the tagline was meant to refer to patient or doctor.
The doctor came in. She has been Mara’s doctor since birth, and we like her a lot. She too, was unburdened by the classic garb of her profession. Instead of a white smock, she wore a print shirt. However, it should be noted that she is a family doctor and she sees a lot of children. Children do not find comfort in uniforms, I think. So I can understand why she does not wear one. She did wear a stethoscope. I think children are distracted by stethoscopes and, since they do a mysterious and interesting thing without a sharp point, find them agreeable. We talked for a while. Things are going well, yes. She looked at the sheet of answers I had filled out (see?). We discussed the little physical irritations that make middle age a drag without really being enough to warrant either decisive remedial action or much sympathy. I’ll spare you the particulars of those complaints, as well as the details of the physical examination, which represents the nadir of indignity. No wait, I mean the nadir of dignity. The acme of indignity. A small price to pay, really, for the opportunity to praise the Most High that my prostate is in serviceable condition.
After that, walking over to the lab to get my blood drawn — as a second avenue of prostate health assessment — was a bland denouement. I fear this, the letting of my life into a glass tube, and cannot watch. It’s not the sharp pricking, it’s the idea. Once again, the technician wore scrubs, bright red ones this time. She did her work quickly and well. I was grateful. In less than twenty seconds a little cotton ball and bandage was applied over the offended spot on my right arm and I was told I could go.
I went outside, my bodily frame struggling to bring itself to its full proud height again, trying to remember its dignity after the hourlong onslaught of little persecutions. “What a piece of work is a man.”
Am I really a half inch shorter than I used to be?