I won’t tell you how long it’s been since I’ve been to the doctor. Let’s just say you’d be disappointed if you knew.
I’m afraid that if I go, no matter what I go in for, they’ll find something in addition. Like when you take your car in for an oil change and walk out being suckered into replacing your brake pads and alternator and timing belt. I’m afraid they’ll take an inventory of everything I currently put in my body, note the amount and types of exercise I get, and even call up my Netflix history … then tell me to do the opposite. I’m afraid if I go, they’ll chastise me for not having gone for so long, noticeably sighing as they thumb through page after page of my pathetic health questionnaire.
But the biggest reason I don’t go is because of a bad experience 20 years ago that has since caused apprehension about the medical world at large. I was reminded of all this last week when I went in to get vaccines for an impending trip to Nicaragua. It was a procedure that involved two arms, two needles, and a litany of caution for the nurse about why I may or may not pass out. We’re friends so she mainly just chuckled at my predicament – rightly.
The most relevant story I relayed was from when I was 17 or so. I went in for vaccines before I went to college, and the last thing I recalled before coming to with a doctor in my face was the nurse sticking me with the MMR vaccine, saying “Whoops!” and then feeling the muscle in my upper arm tense and buckle. “Whatever you do,” I told my friend last week, “don’t say ‘Whoops!’”
For a time as a young man, I couldn’t seem to go to a doctor’s office or encounter anything medically graphic without passing out.
The first time I ever passed out I was 14. I awoke sick one day and passed out cold while standing in the bathroom. Later, the doctor prescribed a steroid, which made me break out in hives and pass out again in the medical center parking lot, prompting an ambulance ride to the hospital (during which the ambulance driver blasted Great White’s “Twice Shy” and sang along rather enthusiastically).
For the next 15 years, I would faint regularly. There was the time I blacked out in the high school auditorium while watching some who-knows-why motivational speech in which the horrific-accident-surviving speaker showed gruesome photos of the insides of his ripped-to-shreds leg. There was the emasculating time I passed out watching my high school girlfriend get stitches removed from her elbow.
Once, I slammed my middle finger in a heavy hotel room door after forgetting an item in my room. Delirious, I made it into the elevator, went down six floors, stumbled into my friend’s car, batted at the air conditioning, and then blacked out for five to seven minutes. My friend thought I was joking because I was sitting contorted with my eyes open. She knew it was real – or that I deserved an Oscar – when a lone tear rolled out of my open left eye.
There was the time a friend had broken his wrist falling off a ladder, and during his gruesome retelling of how it happened and what his mangled wrist had looked like, I passed out in the chair across from him, too polite to change the subject. A year later, I blacked out for about eight minutes in a darkened theater during a particularly horrific scene of “The Wrestler.” It was the scene where he pulls staples from his forehead after wrestling a sadistic, Hillbilly Jim-type opponent.
A few years later, I passed out after a friend took a fall in my house and broke her wrist. For some reason, I thought I should feel the wrist to see if there was a noticeable fracture, a misguided action that sent me slumped to the ground, propped against the wall with my eyes hauntingly agape.
That was about seven years ago and I haven’t passed out since, though I’ve gotten close. These days, I know my triggers and will not hesitate to walk away from a conversation if people don’t take my threats of passing out seriously.
I didn’t pass out last week getting vaccines, despite my apprehension going in (well done, nurse friend). The only time I got close was after the shots had long been administered, my nurse friend couldn’t help pointing out how some people feel the shots going all the way down the nerves in their arms.
“Why would you say that right now?” I demanded, woozy.
But that marks at least the third straight time I’ve had needles in me without passing out. Maybe it’s time I lay my long-running irrational medical fears to rest and finally go get chastised by a doctor.