Wednesday 1 December 2021

How International Men's Day Inspired My First Doctor's Appointment in 30 Years

In my last post, I described two calls I attended ahead of this year’s International Men’s Day. They gave me plenty to think about, but another session may end up having a more fundamental and long-lasting impact. On International Men’s Day itself, I dialled in to a presentation on men’s health by Steven Pearson-Brown from ToHealth Ltd. It wasn’t the first such call I’ve attended, but for some reason, this one really struck home; perhaps because it was part of the wider focus on men’s health and wellbeing.

I listened attentively as Steven discussed a range of topics including weight, exercise, and healthy eating. I’ve been paying more attention to these of late, having put on most of the weight I’d managed to lose. It’s tough to find yourself almost back where you began seven or eight years ago, doubting you can go through that journey again. Steven’s presentation helped reinforce the message that I’m right not to give up. It was another section of his talk, though, that really caught my attention.

My Health History

Before I come to that, let me share a little of my health history. The following is excerpted from a section in our book High Tide, Low Tide which discusses my experience of illness. You can read the full section on our blog.

In my early twenties, I developed dermatitis on my hands and arms. It was painful and inconvenient, but I accepted it as something over which I had little control. It eventually cleared and has not returned.

A few years later [in 1987], I was hospitalized following an episode of acute abdominal pain and bleeding. The condition responded to anti-inflammatory medication, which I took preventatively for two years afterwards. I recall attending an outpatient appointment to learn the results of some diagnostic tests. I was prepared to discover I had experienced either a nasty but limited inflammation, or the first visitation of some serious, perhaps life-threatening, condition.

The results were inconclusive, and the doctors decided further tests would not be performed unless the condition reoccurred. I remember feeling cheated. Even a serious diagnosis seemed preferable to doubt and uncertainty. Fortunately, the condition never troubled me significantly again.

That was more than thirty years ago and for most of that time, my health has been fine. I’ve had a few bouts of abdominal discomfort but nothing that led to me phoning my doctor. I didn’t ignore my health altogether, though. I had a routine bowel cancer screening examination in 2016, a skin cancer screening at work, and a general wellness check about three years ago. It was at this point I discovered I no longer had a GP. At some point, the NHS surgery I’d been with had gone private. I don’t recall being informed of the fact, but in any case, I failed to register with another practice.

Scroll forward to 2020. We’re in the middle of a global pandemic and I figured maybe it was about time I found myself a doctor. It took a couple of attempts, but I eventually registered with a practice within walking distance of home. It made things much easier when it came to getting my flu jab last winter (a first for me), and my covid vaccinations this year.

Making the Decision

I mentioned that I’ve put back most of the weight I lost over the past few years, but my heart rate and blood pressure are healthy enough. I enjoy a beer or two at home or out with friends but I’ve not been drunk or hungover since I lived in London in the mid-1980s.

As I get older, however, I find myself paying more attention to what my body’s doing, or not doing as well as it used to. Something I’ve become increasingly aware of over the past year or so is that I need to urinate more than I used to, both at night and during the day. I didn’t pay too much attention last year when I was working from home and unable to meet up with anyone socially, but it’s become more of an issue since lockdown ended, especially if I’ve wanted to go out for a drink. It’s inconvenient, and a little embarrassing, to keep having to go to the toilet, although the few friends I go out with are understanding. I could continue to live with the inconvenience, but it can indicate underlying issues in men of a certain age. Pretty much my age, in fact.

I’d known all this for a while and not done anything about it, but as I listened to Steven talking about prostate cancer and how important it is to get checked out as early as possible, I made a promise to myself to do just that. Three days later, I booked my first appointment with a GP in over thirty years. Fingers crossed, there’s nothing seriously wrong, but I wasn’t going to ignore or put it off any longer. There were a couple of other things I wanted to discuss with the doctor, but this was the main one and the reason for making the appointment.

How the Appointment Went

Initial appointments are conducted by phone. I was on edge waiting for the call to come through, but everything went well. The doctor was lovely and very thorough. She asked lots of questions but explained things as we went along so I understood why she needed to know and the potential significance of my answers. I got to say what I wanted, and felt involved and listened to. I was glad I’d made notes in advance. They helped me stay on track and cover everything I wanted to mention or ask. This is something I’ve learned over the years from helping Fran prepare for appointments with her psychiatrist.

The doctor agreed my symptoms might indicate issues with my prostate — not necessarily cancer — but said there are other possibilities to consider, including type 2 diabetes. We agreed the next stage is for me to have a physical examination and blood and urine tests. I have an appointment booked to attend the surgery in a couple of weeks. I was surprised, and pleased, to get a follow-up appointment so promptly. I dare say I’ll be anxious nearer the time, but for now, I’m happy to have started the process. It wasn’t nearly as scary as I thought it might be.

Support and Encouragement

The friends I’ve told have been incredibly supportive and encouraging. One put it this way: “As someone living with a chronic condition, it’s hard to imagine being so healthy that you don’t need a doctor for thirty years, but I’m proud of you for exploring it now.” They understand that taking this step is a big thing for me precisely because I’ve been healthy enough over the years to ignore any niggling doubts or symptoms. Until now.

I wasn’t sure about sharing all this in a blog post when I don’t even know if there’s anything wrong. Hopefully, there isn’t. Many of my friends live with serious physical and mental health conditions but like most people, they consult their doctors when they need to without feeling the need to tell everyone about it. The one exception — and my inspiration for writing this post — is my friend and fellow mental health blogger Aimee Wilson. Aimee blogs about her lived experience with an honesty that has opened my eyes to a lot of things and helps many people who find themselves in similar situations to hers.

Maybe there are people out there — men in particular — who’ll read this and think, if Martin can call his doctor and make an appointment, I can do it. If just one person does that, I’m content.

Further Reading

I’ve included a few links relating to men’s physical and mental health. It’s good to be well-informed, but if you have concerns about your health don’t try and self-diagnose. Do what I (finally) did and make an appointment with a health professional.


Photo by Shopify Partners from Burst.


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