Why Do Men Delay Going to the Doctor?
I am like most men—I put off going to the doctor.
Six years ago, I had major reconstructive foot surgery for a relatively rare condition, and overall made a great recovery. But recently I started having some pain in that foot. I was anxious about it, but decided to rest it and do my own program of physical therapy. I thought about going to the doctor, but figured that I would wait and see if it got better on its own. Four months later I finally did go see the Orthopedist who did the surgery (You guessed it, at my wife’s insistence!), and my diagnosis and treatment regimen was wrong! Now, after following his advice, it’s much improved. I have to admit I felt kind of stupid.
So why is it that we males are such dodo’s when it comes to going to our health care provider?
There are several reasons. In our culture, boys are taught to be “self-reliant”. Our fathers model this behavior and reinforce it. If the roof leaks, get up on a ladder and see if you can find the leak. If your car doesn’t start, open the hood and see if you can figure it out. If there is a leak under the sink, see if you can fix it. We are taught to find our own solution to life’s problems. We value being resourceful and self-sufficient. This does not engender asking and paying experts for help!
Of course modern American life has become far more complex. Fuel injection has replaced old fashioned carburetors. A mechanic needs a lap top as much as a wrench. My Dad always did his own taxes, but back then the tax code was simpler. When I was a kid, your general practitioner took care of most health problems. Now a health issue may require several trips to different specialists. In fact, all of us are less capable of navigating modern life on our own. We have to rely on experts.
Men are also taught to “buck up” and not complain about our aches and pains. (Although we do have a reputation for being “big babies” when we are sick). As kids, when we got knocked down during a football scrimmage, we were told to “get up and get back into the game”. Most of us are still doing this as adults. But it may not have been good advice when we were 12, and it isn’t good advice at 40 either. Nowadays girls are getting this kind of bad advice on the soccer field too. The net effect can be major sports injuries in children!
Recently I had some symptoms of a UTI (Urinary Tract Infection). Of course, like most men I put off going to the doctor thinking—“I’ll wait and see if it gets better on its own”. By the time I finally did go, it had got way worse. My wife did have a few choice words to say about my lack of common sense!
But this kind of stubborn behavior is typical of my gender. The net effect is that men wait too long to make a trip to their health care provider until they are having really acute symptoms! Not so smart! Many men (and women) die every year from heart attacks because they minimize their symptoms and put off calling 911.
So what should we do?
Realize that our upbringing may have had a few flaws. “Bucking up”, ignoring symptoms, waiting for things to get better for way too long, minimizing our aches and pains, and keeping it all inside is just plain dumb. It may feel uncomfortable to ask for help, but push through your comfort zone! That’s being smart!
Take care of yourself. This is the bottom line. Ironically, men often expect the women in their lives to “take care” of them, but then they don’t listen to their wives or girlfriends! Learn how to take care of yourself. This means acknowledging your problems, addressing them appropriately, and yes, asking for help.
I am a slow learner. But I think, at the tender age of 61, I am realizing that I need to take better care of myself when I am having some health concerns. And I am not going to wait so long next time to see my health care provider!