White coat anxiety and a man who suffers from it

Country Roads

When I was a kid ̶ like 5 or 6 years old ̶ I was afraid of physicians and the things they did to little boys like me.

When getting my pre-school vaccinations I jerked away so badly the needle of the hypodermic syringe bent. As the doctor very carefully withdrew the bent needle from my arm I got a scolding for my anxiety-driven reflex.

When a second-grade classmate was diagnosed with a serious illness, the rest of us had to get vaccinations. Standing in line in the school lunchroom with my classmates, I was dreading the painful stab of a needle. It was even worse when I learned the vaccination was in the rear end and a lady nurse would see my butt.

Life goes on. I stepped on a nail and needed a tetanus shot. My father took me to the doctor who vaccinated me with a 40-penny nail. I exaggerate, of course, but that was one large needle and it hadn’t been re-sharpened for a long time.

So I grew up and got over my white coat anxiety, right? Nope. In 1969 Iowa still required a blood test before you could get your marriage license. With great trepidation I accompanied my fiancé to her family doctor ̶ weak-kneed and scared ̶ to have blood drawn. There were moments when bachelorhood looked good, but I went through with it and I’m glad I did.

Around that same time I developed a lower abdominal pain that would not go away. The doctor was a sharp young fellow but English was his second language and I did not understand everything he said. This led to an unpleasant surprise when he told me to drop my drawers and bend over. That was an omen of future doctor visits.

When I reached middle age my doctor told me it was time for a colonoscopy. That brought about a whole new set of reasons for anxiety. But I went through with it… several times.

Then I was introduced to the wonderful world of endoscopies. That’s when a doctor sticks a camera down your throat and looks around your innards. Fortunately, an endoscopy is done while the patient is sedated. Otherwise, you would have heard the gagging a mile away.

A couple of years passed and I was advised that I had to swallow a miniature camera so the doctor could see what was going on inside my digestive system. The camera sent a wireless signal to a recording device worn over the shoulder. No one knew whether I was wearing a recorder… or a purse. I worried about the demise of the camera but everything came out okay.

Even though I have experienced all these joys of modern medicine I still wasn’t ready for the latest invasion of my personhood.

Suffering from ongoing nasal congestion I sought medical treatment. Having the doctor look up my nostrils with a bright light was weird but not uncomfortable. Then the doctor sprayed some stuff up my nose.

“It’s a mixture of Afrin and Lidocaine,” the bright young ENT doc explained. “I’ll give it a chance to go to work and then I’ll be back to take a closer look.”

While I sat alone in the exam room, I could feel the Lidocaine working. We Huismans have large noses (they are all hand-picked, you know) so it truly was a nose-numbing experience.

Sure enough, about 10 minutes later the ENT doc returned and stuck a tube up my nostril. With this little nasal endoscope ̶ a tube and a camera ̶ the doctor took “a look around” my nasal cavity.

I must say that a nasal exam is preferred to a prostate exam any day, but the exploration of my numbed turbinates was uncomfortable.

The doctor’s exam that day found no major problems other than a deviated septum. At first I thought he said I had a “deviant” septum but then I remembered that the ear doctor I saw two weeks earlier had reminded me my hearing was shot.

Many people have gone through so much more and I am grateful not only for good health but for the many medical professionals who have tended to my medical needs over the years. I do not wish to make light of their services.

However, I’m still not a fan of medical invasions. After all these years and experiences I still suffer from white coat anxiety.


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