The doctor will see you now, Mr. Pottie……Mr. Pottie?
(A Few words about men and doctors)

by Patricia Pearson

I note that a new outreach project is underway in New England to rope bucking, struggling men in to see their doctors. At least once in a while, for an annual check-up, if nothing else. The project, coordinated by Chuck Rhoades of North Hampton, New Hampshire, is an attempt to address this age-old quandary:

Why do normally bold, forthright men turn into Siamese cats hiding behind the drier when faced with the prospect of seeing a physician? In my house, the scenario generally plays out like this:

“Ambrose, your head is falling off.”

“Oh, is it?” Cursory glance in the mirror. “Yeah, I guess so.”

“Well, don’t you think you should go to the doctor?”

“I will, yeah.”

Two days later:

“Ambrose, your head remains connected to your neck by one sinew, did you phone the doctor yet?”

“Uh, no, I was going to, but I had to go to the hardware store to get some widgets to fix that old paint-shaking machine I found in the basement.”

“Well, why don’t *I* make an appointment for you?”

“Okay, great.”

One week later, addressing husband’s fallen-off head on basement floor: “Ambrose, did you go to the doctor this morning?” “No, I rescheduled, I had to download the b-side of Mike Olson’s Tubular Bells from Napster.”

“So when are you going to go?”

“Well, either next Thursday if I can, or more likely never.”

My husband successfully avoided the dentist for fourteen years, until his jaw started exploding with pain, forcing him to go for one visit, after which he never returned, preferring to grit his teeth than treat them. Why does he do this? Because this is the manly thing. Even for men who don’t put much stock in their masculinity otherwise, who happily diaper their babies and cook supper and listen attentively to their wives. As soon as their wives say “go to the doctor” they go deaf, and inexplicably morph into John Wayne.

In New Hampshire, Rhoades is bringing men together at their workplaces, on the understated theory that men won’t go out of their way to visit doctors. He plans five weekly group discussions on health, hoping to eventually elicit their specific, personal concerns. (When men do show up at a medical facility, according to Rhoades, they don’t tend to mention specific ailments to the doctor unless the doctor specifically asks, which would necessitate their visiting clairvoyants at the local Psychic Expo before receiving effective treatment.)

Mental health problems are even more unlikely to escape men’s lips, as numerous studies report. For women, this means having to play interminable and ultimately futile games of Twenty Questions with the men in their lives.

‘How are you, honey?’

‘Fine.’

‘Really? Well, I can’t pin it down, but I feel like something’s bothering you, because you haven’t eaten, spoken, gone to work or risen from that chair in two weeks, and I’m justing wondering if anything’s wrong.’

‘No.’

‘Are you depressed?’

‘No.’

‘You’re not troubled that professional baseball players make so much more money than you do, are you?’

‘No.’

‘Are you sad because it’s the middle of winter and there’s no daylight and someone stole our snow shovel?’

‘No.’

By the twentyth stab-in-the-dark question, the man relents somewhat, expanding his response from ‘no’ to ‘I’ll be fine.’ This effectively ends the conversation, as the mother/wife/daughter trails off by saying: “well….let me know if you want to talk about it….’ All this is why women become excessively analytical about the opposite sex. It’s not that they’re more interested in ‘gossip’ or ‘personal relations’ than they are in hockey or foreign policy. It is that they have no choice if they want to keep the men around them healthy. Little girls watch their mothers trying to eek monosyllables out of their fathers, and learn the finer strategic techniques of moving males beyond ‘I’ll be fine,’ with the rare, brilliant tactician actually scoring a full confession, such as “I have an earache,” or “I got fired.”

After years of this sort of apprehensive questioning, women begin to reflexively apply it to themselves, which is why you wind up with more female hypochondriacs. At one time or another, every one of my female friends has worried out loud, checked on the Internet, or visited her doctor about something preposterously neurotic.

It’s men’s fault. Now, if we could only get them to admit it.


© Patricia Pearson, 2001