Medical Checkups: The Bane of The Boomers

I’m surprised I’m still in one piece

Last week I had a colonoscopy. What could have been a horrible experience really wasn’t too bad. The preparation was the worst bit. The actual procedure was OK. Mainly because I don’t remember it.

They gave me something called conscious sedation. And that’s what it was. The doctor attached the drugs to the lure. I stared into space and Bob’s your uncle, the procedure was complete. I was a bit woozy after the procedure and spent Friday asleep, but that was the sum of it. Back to normal the next day.

I did get a lovely report, though, with a picture of my insides. I showed it to my daughter, who loves anything biological. I haven’t seen it since. She says she was making notes about something sciency off the computer and wrote them on the back. Good job there was nothing wrong with me.

My take-away from the colonoscopy was two-fold:

  1. All the propaganda about having twenty years of gunk in your bowels can’t be true, at least not in my case. I think it’s dreamed up by the people who provide colonic irrigation. Or the gloopy stuff I had to drink got rid of it all.
  2. I’m going to have to woman up and send the annual poo sample to the National Screening Program in the post. I usually throw the letter in the bin. If I’d done them regularly, I might not have had to do the colonoscopy.

“One of the few times in a man’s life when he is not full of shit!!

The morning of a colonoscopy. Enough said!”
― Jim Lawrence

With the excitement of getting IV drugs and a camera stuck up my bottom all over, it was time to get back to normal.

“I’m going to get on with some work,” I told myself. “Write lots of articles.”

The next minute, my phone was buzzing — a text from a friend. Actually, not a friend. It was from my gynecologist.

“Wendy, it is now time for you gynecology review. Please phone us for an appointment.”

What? I’d just gone through three weeks of dread and the prep for a colonoscopy. Now I’ve got to go through another exam? I ignored it, thinking I’ll phone tomorrow.

I had a dodgy smear test result about three years ago, and since then, I go straight to the gynecologist.

“The doctors will send you to me anyway so let’s cut out the middle man,” she said, ever cheery.

In New Zealand, they are diligent with smear tests. If I don’t make an appointment quick smart, I’ll get a few more texts and some phone calls from the gynecologist, as well as increasingly urgent texts and phone calls from my doctor.

I was really impressed until I heard that it’s because of an NZ medical scandal in the eighties. A certain Dr. Herbert Green decided to see what would happen if women with significant cervical abnormalities weren’t treated. Guess what? Some of them got cancer or died.

Since then, women are chased to get their smears with a cult-like fervor.

“In 1987, Women’s Health Action founders Sandra Coney and Phillida Bunkle published an article called ‘An unfortunate experiment at National Women’s Hospital’ in the monthly Auckland magazine ‘Metro’. The article outlined an unethical study at National Women’s Hospital, the country’s premier women’s hospital. The study, led by Dr Herbert Green, started in 1966 and involved following women with major cervical abnormalities without definitively treating them. This occurred without the women’s knowledge or consent. Twenty years on, many had developed cervical cancer, and some had died. The revelations led to public outrage and ultimately to a Government ordered Ministerial Committee of Inquiry.” — The Cartwright Inquiry, Women’s-Health.org.nz

My trips to my gynecologist are always entertaining. She has a lot to say about the state of my lady bits and always takes a photo which she likes to share with me. I’m not so keen. As long as there is nothing wrong and I don’t have to do anything, I really don’t want to have a look.

Ten minutes after the text from my gynecologist, the phone rang. It was my dentist reminding me of my annual checkup. I don’t mind the dentist. The only thing I don’t like is the X-ray plate digging into my gums and the assault with the poky thing when they do the clean.

Apparently, I have good teeth for my age. That’s a backhanded compliment if ever I heard one.

“Every tooth in a man’s head is more valuable than a diamond.” — Miguel de Cervantes

This flurry of medical attention got me thinking. In my forties, I didn’t get so much love. Hitting fifty seems to have tripped some sort of magical health alert switch. For the last few years, my calendar has been a merry-go-round of checkups.

I’m a recovering hypochondriac, so I go to them all. But still, I feel rather sad at the apparent lack of faith in my body’s ability to continue functioning.

As well as the dentist and the smear test I also have a yearly mammogram, eye test, and a well-woman check.

Mammograms are funded in NZ but only one every two years. I go private and have one in the non-funded year, as advised by my doctor. This means every year, I have to remember where I went last, which private clinic I went to, and when. These days I can hardly remember my own name and have a job remembering big words, so it’s always a challenge answering the questions.

“I just think that knowing about your body at any age, whether it’s educating yourself on fertility, getting mammograms, going through puberty — whatever it may be, is really important. I just really encourage women empowerment and being comfortable talking about these issues. “— Khloe Kardashian

My eye-tests are done yearly now as my eyeballs have too much pressure. A bit like the rest of me, really. Only pressure in the eyes may lead to glaucoma so I have to be checked more regularly. My optician knows I have a phobia about eyes. I nearly fainted once when he showed me an A4 picture of an eyeball in color. I had to sit down and blow into a paper bag.

He is used to me and now knows that I don’t want to see any diagrams or pictures. I definitely don’t want to look at the inside of my eye on a screen. I’d probably puke. I’ve told him if there is anything wrong, all I want to know is what it’s called and what I have to do in as few words as possible.

But wait, there’s more…

Bone density testing and mole mapping are the checkups I flirt with occasionally.

I did the bone density test years ago, and at the time, I had the bones of a twenty-five-year-old. I told my gynecologist this when she regaled me with a list of tests I should now have as a post-menopausal woman.

“You may have the bones of a twenty-five year old but you’ve got the vagina of an eighty year old,” she informed me. What? Nothing that couldn’t be fixed, though. I now have the vagina of a thirty-five-year-old. I made sure to ask after it had been fixed up.

I’ve also had one mole-map, and I’m meant to go back every year but haven’t. I should really because as a red-head, I’m more at risk of having melanoma. I tell myself because I don’t go out in the sun often, I’m safe.

The first and only time I had the mole-map was at ten-thirty on a workday, so I didn’t put any make-up on. I couldn’t face the on-off-on-again palaver, so for once, I went to work bare faced.

The women all knew why I looked different, but the men were puzzled. They asked me about new glasses, haircuts, new outfits and whether I was well. Without make-up I have no eyebrows and colorless eyelashes. My face is so white the lightest foundation is darker than my skin.

So I was a bit miffed. I’ve always been under the impression that when I put my ‘face’ on, I turn from pale and interesting to femme fatale. Oh well.

Final thoughts

All these checkups are inconvenient, but important, that’s why I go to most of them.

I’m grateful that I live in New Zealand where health checks are accessible and where doctors prefer to have tests done ‘just in case’.

Here’s to the next round of tests…

Disclaimer: I’m not any sort of medical professional I’m not qualified or intending to give out medical advice.

If you enjoyed reading this, here are some more of my stories below:

Brit in Auckland writing about leadership for new leaders, diversity, post divorce dating, and becoming a writer/entrepreneur. Warning: random humor included.

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