For many years I suffered from “white coat hypertension,” meaning that my blood pressure would spike when I went to see a doctor—any doctor—for any sort of reason. This happened, of course, because I found going to such places–where the smells of illness and disinfectant hang heavily in the air–to be very frightening.
You might think this sounds like a pretty weird phobia to have. On the other hand, a little cursory reading on the internet shows it to be a fairly common one. I suppose that makes a whole lot of us pretty weird.
Fear of doctors and going to see them is rooted in the fact that we mostly only go to talk with such people when there’s something amiss in our bodies. Thus, the physician’s office is a place where one goes in mostly expecting bad news and is usually not disappointed in this respect. Plus, one does things in clinics and hospitals that one almost never does in any other context. For example, how often is a person asked to pee into a tiny plastic cup or is approached by an individual with a syringe who then proceeds to inserted said sharp object into one’s vein to suck blood—a vital fluid—out of one’s body. Or how frequently is an individual required to stand partially or completely naked in front a complete stranger to be squeezed, poked, and prodded by fingers and a variety of cold, metal instruments? To top it all off, nurses and doctors have a long history of asking really embarrassing questions. As a matter of fact, I recall going to a clinic a few years back for a bit of a stomach problem and having a lovely woman with a stethoscope hanging around her neck ask me, with a perfectly straight face, “Are you very often flatulent?”
As far as I can recall, she was the first and only person to ever ask me, pointblank, about farting.
I am thinking about doctors and my fear of them because I had the first part of a physical examination about one week. As is normally the case, it was a pretty unsettling experience.
Of course, a variety of exams were given, including an EKG. Before the test took place, I was asked to remove my shirt and undershirt. While doing so, I became painfully aware of how hairy my torso was. In addition, I looked down, once I was half naked, and took note of the flabbiness of my midsection. I considered, for a split section, sucking my gut in but wondered how long I’d be able to hold it like that before my face turned blue, raising additional medical suspicions. I had been left all alone in the examination room to ponder my physical imperfections. After five minutes or so, a nurse wheeled in the EKG machine, asked me to lie, face up, on a terribly cold and elevated examination table. She started sticking what felt to be suction cups to my hairiness. To pretend that none of this was happening, I stared up at the ceiling and began to fixate my gaze upon the light fixture. The machine was turned on and something started happening, although that something made no sound or gave any other signs that it was operating. Luckily, after a very short time, the exam was completed, and she told me I could cover my embarrassingly white flesh as she wheeled the contraption out of the room.
After a few minutes the doctor came in with my file in hand. He began to thumb through pages of information about me. I was acutely aware that he likely knew more about me than I know about myself. I’m pretty sure my white coat hypertension came back at that moment, but not being hooked up to a sphygmomanometer, it was nigh impossible for me to know for sure. I could feel my face flushing, though, which was a pretty clear sign.