The annual physical is something we men skip religiously each and every year. We know we shouldn’t but for some reason, men don’t feel the need to go to the doctor. We’re taught to be rugged individuals without fear, but we can be real wimps when it comes right down it.
Let’s face it, men, we can barely get through a cold without being down on the couch for an entire day or more complaining. Our counterparts (women, wives, girlfriends) shake their heads and roll their eyes when we fall ill.
A woman’s day continues no matter what malady has been thrown at them. Migraine – I’ve got to be in school to teach in 30 minutes. Bronchitis – great now I’ll have to go to Back To School night hacking on everyone”. Women have actually been built to continue on regardless of how they feel. Need I discuss the “monthly visitor”?
Why men avoid the annual physical
Avoiding the annual physical is mostly rooted in the fear of hearing something you don’t want to. The best way to avoid hearing bad news is to not look for it, right? It’s like when you turn the radio louder in your car so you don’t hear your squeaking brakes. Problem solved right? This is a terrible idea on both fronts because you can be doing more damage than good for your brakes and your health.
“We’re too busy”. “I just don’t have the time to sit in the doctor’s office and wait”. You will, however, sit at your mechanic for two hours without complaint to get your car tuned up. You don’t have an hour to wait at a doctor’s office to find out that you are in top physical condition and face no issues?
If you boarded a plane and the pilot announced that the plane hadn’t had a checkup in a year would you feel confident flying or would you run like hell?
Why you shouldn’t skip an annual physical
Your annual physical is the chance to get an analysis of your health and set your benchmark. The annual physical only works if you’re honest with your doctor. It’s imperative that you review any and all issues you’ve been having regardless of how minor you think it is or how embarrassed you are. A physician has heard it all, you will not shock them.
Not being forthcoming with symptoms can be life-threatening. Not mentioning chest pain you’ve had can be the warning sign you needed to discuss to prevent a heart attack. A heart attack is most likely caused by symptoms that might have been detected through cholesterol testing or an EKG (electrocardiogram).
What to expect at your annual physical
I’ve been getting annual physicals since I was in my 20’s so I feel comfortable telling you what to expect. At the time of writing this article, I’m in my 50s which is WAY different in the physical department than 20. We’ll get to that in a minute.
My reasoning behind always having my annual physicals was because one side of my family is a mess healthwise. Dad’s side pretty much has a lock on heart issues so I’d like to avoid that if at all possible. I need an extra 30 minutes the first time I visit a new doctor when it comes to filling out paperwork on family history.
So here’s what you can expect at your annual physical.
Family history review and how you feel now any issues?
If it’s your first time the doctor will want to know your family history. Have there been any health issues in your family? The doctor will also ask you general questions like do you smoke, drink alcohol, use drugs, sexual health (don’t be an idiot with this question – I know there’s a million jokes there but don’t do it) diet, exercise, and some other questions. Lying during any of these questions will not help you.
If you drink, let the doctor know. If you recreationally smoke a joint every now and again let the doctor know. Chances are nowadays he/she could write you a script for medical marijuana. Be honest, they’ve have heard it ALL before.
The following vital signs will be taken:
Heart Rate: A normal rate is between 60 and 100 beats a minute. The nurse will usually take your heart rate by holding your wrist and counting for 30 seconds. Simple but effective.
Blood Pressure: 120 over 80 is normal blood pressure and anything over 130 is high blood pressure or hypertension. For more visit my article specific to high blood pressure.
Temperature: Normal body temperature is 98.6 but it’s not uncommon to have slightly higher or lower if you’re healthy. Mine is usually around 99.1. My doctor said I have a bad thermostat.
Breathing rate: 12-16 breaths per minute is normal. More than that could mean heart or lung issues.
General Appearance – though not a vital sign per se the doctor will look at you to see if you appear pale, do you have issues standing and moving, items like that.
Electrocardiogram – this machine detects if you have any abnormalities or irregular heartbeats. It’s a very simple test that takes about 5 minutes or less. Small “tabs” adhere to your skin in different places with wires that measure your heartbeat. You feel nothing other than the tabs being pulled off when they are done. Chest hair is not your friend for this test. The results are immediate as well.
Stethoscope – The doctor will listen to your heart with a stethoscope for any irregularities. Simple and painless.
Stethoscope – The doctor will listen to your breathing in several areas in front and on your back. They are looking for any wheezing, cracking sounds, or abnormalities.
Head and Neck
Open up and say ah… for a peek inside your mouth and throat. The doctor will also check your ears, eyes, and nose. You will also have your lymph nodes checked by feeling your neck.
The doctor will have you lay back and then tap on your abdomen to get a gauge of the size of your liver while also listening via stethoscope for sounds in your stomach. This is where those ab exercises pay off. My doctor once commented on my strong stomach muscles, though covered by a layer of thin fat. Ummm thanks Doc?!
You may have a quick skin check done just to look for anything out of the ordinary that would detect skin cancer. If he finds any abnormalities he/she may recommend you see a dermatologist. My doctor doesn’t really do this anymore because he knows I see a dermatologist regularly.
The doctor will provide you a prescription to have blood work done. This bloodwork is typically used to test cholesterol, thyroid levels, blood cell counts, blood sugar levels, and a host of other things that I won’t bore you with. Just get your bloodwork done. It takes no time at all to do in an outside lab. If you hate needles well you’ll need to suck it up because dying is way worse than having a needle draw blood for 2 minutes.
And now the not so good stuff…
If you’re a man approaching 50 or sometimes even 40 there are a few tests that are NECESSARY and non-negotiable. Some of these tests are done in the office and one will have to be done by a gastroenterologist. Now, these are sensitive areas we’re about to discuss and again there is a multitude of jokes that can be inserted into these uncomfortable situations with your doctor. It’s up to you to gauge their level of humor to know if the time and place are right or not.
It’s important to do your own self-evaluation on a regular basis (insert masturbation joke of some sort here if needed – “I’m good at self-exams, at least three times a week for me”, you get the idea) but your doctor may also perform one in office.
Hopefully, he warms his hands up before going down below to check on the boys. The doctor will check your testicles for lumps. If something is found don’t freak out. Many times it is nothing and can be a slew of other things besides the obvious fear of cancer. The doctor will most likely have you see a urologist who might schedule an ultrasound to get a better look.
There are many horror stories about colonoscopies but I am here to tell you it really isn’t a big deal. I had one about 5 years ago (and I’m due again as we speak now that I hit the 50-year-old mark – usually the benchmark for your first one). The worst part of the whole process for me was not being able to eat solid food for 24 hours prior to the exam and the preparation.
Prepping for a colonoscopy consists of fasting as discussed above and then at around 6 PM the night before your exam beginning to drink probably the worst tasting drink you will ever have. There are some tricks to try to improve the taste like mixing it with Crystal Lite lemonade or chilling it but in the end, you need to power through this drink. The faster you drink it the quicker it’s over.
Depending on how quickly your “system” operates you should begin running to the bathroom in about 1-2 hours or maybe a bit less. Plan on spending some time there. Perhaps move a television nearby, get a good long book to read, and absolutely make sure your cell phone is fully charged. Once the valve opens it’s game on.
On the day of the test, you’ll have to drink another batch of the witches brew first thing in the morning and finish clearing out anything left in your body. Not be gross but by this time it’s mostly just clear liquid draining out of you. Any remnants of the hot dog you had at the stadium this summer are long gone.
The test itself was no big deal. As a matter of fact it’s the best 20-30 minutes of sleep you’ll ever get. I was knocked out, I woke up and it was done.
I beg of you to get this test done. Most avoid it from fear of all the stories they have heard. It is not a big deal and well worth avoiding colon cancer.
The Prostate exam
Well, gentleman, we’ve saved the best for last. The prostate exam is your doctor literally giving you “the finger”, where you wouldn’t expect it. I won’t go into the gory details but my primary care doctor says he enjoys performing this test even LESS than we like receiving it. I don’t enjoy it at all so he must really hate it having to possibly perform multiple exams in a day.
It’s important to have the test performed to detect early signs of prostate cancer. The doctor is feeling the prostate for hard lumpy or abnormal areas. He may even crack a joke about losing his wedding ring in there to break the tension and uncomfortableness. It only takes a minute or so to complete and worth the discomfort.
Don’t fear your annual physical but instead use it as an overall gauge for your health and as a benchmark for the year. This list of what to expect may not be everything but it’s fairly typical as to what I’ve done each and every year.
For more on what you should be having checked at each stage in your life visit Men’s Journal.
Comment below and share with a friend, maybe someone who has been avoiding the doctor.