Archive for Sunday, January 11, 2009

Patient seeks scaled-back annual exam

January 11, 2009


I am fidgeting nervously in my internist’s waiting room, listening expectantly for my name to be called. It’s time for my annual physical. Let the fun and games begin!

For the last two hours, I’ve been in pregame: bathing, shaving, deodorizing, breath freshening and, most importantly, deciding how to dress for the occasion.

Now, you might ask: What does it matter what you wear to a checkup? After all, it’s not the prom or your daughter’s wedding. Who the heck cares?

Ah, but you’ve missed the point, my friend. Dressing for the doctor’s office has nothing to do with style and everything to do with the dreaded weigh-in. You know. The one they do out in the open, in front of everybody — nurses, patients, office staff, pharmaceutical reps, Xerox repairman? (Don’t tell me everyone’s too busy to care; I can feel them watching!)

The number at the weigh-in sets the tone for the entire examination.

If it’s higher than expected, it can throw your entire system out of whack — blood pressure skyrockets; pulse rate goes off the charts. You can hyperventilate and actually lose consciousness, hitting your head on the reception desk. (I know. It happened to me.) Depression sets in. Suddenly, you’re asking for a Prozac prescription, when all you wanted was a refill on your blood pressure medication. If the number is LOWER than expected, it’s still a surprise… (Oh, who am I kidding. As if that’s EVER happened in my lifetime. In anyone’s lifetime, for that matter!)

That’s why it’s critical to beat the scale at its own game.

In the summertime, it’s easy. Simply throw on a pair of your lightest-weight shorts — seersucker, if you have it. The shorter the better, but, remember, allowances must be made for thighs over 45 years of age. Add a breezy T-shirt and a pair of flip-flops for a deductible clothing weight — sans sandals — of 1 to 1.5 pounds.

(Naturally, I’m presuming that you have had nothing to eat all day, even if your appointment is at 4 p.m.)

In the winter, it’s a different story, as I soon discover when a young medical assistant calls my name from the door.

“OK, Catherine,” he says, leading me to the scale in the middle of a bustling corridor, “let’s get a weight on you, shall we?”

“Oh yes, let’s,” I say to myself, brightly. “But first, cue up ‘The Stripper’ and let Gypsy Rose Lee do her stuff!”

With technique and flair rivaling Blaze Starr, Sally Rand and Demi Moore, I start to shed layers. Off comes the coat, then the scarf. I kick off my shoes and peel off the socks. Next, it’s the belt, followed by necklace and chandelier earrings. (C’mon, they’re good for a few ounces each, at least.) I glance down at my wedding ring. Why not? Then, the glasses come off, and I’m ready to go.

(Note: Removing your eyewear before a weigh-in is a dually helpful idea, especially if you’re far-sighted or have presbyopia. It lessens the load and prevents you from reading those distressing numbers.)

I turn to the gape-mouthed health professional, who undoubtedly fears I’m going to strip down to my birthday suit right there in front of the Viagra salesman, and step on the scale, closing my eyes for good measure.

Unfortunately, the guy has yet to learn the cardinal rule of medicine: Patient poundage shall never be uttered aloud within earshot of anyone, including the patient.

“I weigh WHAT?” I cry, as I fasten the necklace around my neck. “That’s ludicrous! I was six pounds lighter on my bathroom scale two hours ago! This is malpractice, my friend. Faulty equipment! Patient abuse!”

I storm after him, screaming and shaking my socks in the air like a lunatic bag lady. The Viagra salesman hits the deck. Little blue pills scatter all over the carpet.

By the time we reach the exam room, my blood pressure’s to the moon, and my heart rate is 100 beats per minute. The exasperated medical assistant instructs me to put my head between my knees and breathe. I tell him to do the same. He looks pale.

The rest of the exam is uneventful. My doctor pokes, prods and inquires. She makes sure I’ve had my mammogram and am taking my baby aspirin and vitamins. My blood pressure finally returns to a safe range. My heart rate slows to normal. I can breathe again.

Finally, she asks if I have any questions.

“Just one,” I reply. “Why can’t all the scales in the world be calibrated exactly the same?”

“Tell me about it,” she says, with a smile. “That one in the hall weighs four pounds lighter than mine at home. Drives me crazy.”

— Cathy Hamilton is a 53-year-old empty nester, wife, mother and author, who blogs every day at


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