Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey
*Johnstown, PA Tribune-Democrat
August 21, 2011
as "Aging men face medical waterloos"
Growing old is curiously both a curse and a blessing. The blessing part is the accumulation of knowledge and life experience that results in the gift of wisdom. Make no mistake, we all make mistakes. Most we eventually learn from, some we never seem to. Of course, having wisdom promotes the desire to share it, especially with younger people whose lives, we are sure, would be so much easier if they’d just listen to us. They, of course, are just like we were, living life by the dictum “In order to be old and wise, one must first be young and stupid.”
The curse of age usually involves the infuriating decline of our physical health. For many years, I played league softball and tennis religiously, although not always successfully. Last summer at a picnic, I took a few swings in a pickup game. The ball didn’t go very far and my sprint had turned into a lumbering plod. I haven’t picked up a bat since. Just too embarrassed to do it.
My body, once so freely abused and mistreated, has now rebelled. I’ve had five heart incidents, three in the last 18 months. I had lap band surgery and lost a prodigious amount of weight only to find out that coronary artery disease is the gift that keeps on giving. The Doctor says I’ve greatly lowered my risk factors, but I’m a little fuzzy on what that means since my arteries still seem bound and determined to clog themselves. At least I’m completely off my diabetes meds.
There are two medical Waterloos every man must face: the prostate and the colon.
Lest I seem unnecessarily flippant, these two body parts are at risk from dangerous health problems, particularly cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, so far in 2011, over 240,000 men have contracted prostate cancer. Almost 34,000 have died. So far this year, over 141,000 new cases of colon and rectal cancer have been reported. Almost 50,000 have died. Those numbers are enough to chill even the sunniest optimist.
That I have to be checked for these terrible diseases is not at issue. What is at issue is the methods of detection and diagnosis.
Most men have an ingrown aversion to having things shoved up our exhaust systems. For most of us, it is a humiliating and degrading experience. We don’t even get any sympathy from our wives for the ordeal. Mine gives me that withering look and says, “I delivered four babies. Quit whining.”
I had a colonoscopy in 2003, the results of which were so good as to put a repeat performance off for ten years. But that date is fast approaching and I live in dread of that moment.
As far as the prostate goes, cancer is not the only problem. There are a host of other issues that will with certainty require medical intervention, mostly having to do with the frequency and length of bathroom visits. So I know, intellectually at least, that an exam is necessary, and my Doctor reminds me of that every time I visit. But actually volunteering for that exam has become a difficult hurdle.
I don’t think there’s a Doctor anywhere who really enjoys giving a prostate exam. I know I certainly wouldn’t. But they wouldn’t be doing their job if they didn’t encourage it.
I just wish that in this age of incredible medical technology that there was an alternative to that finger up the wazoo. Scientists have mapped the human genome, discovered scintillating details about how the brain goes about its business and crafted treatments and even cures for some terrible diseases. MRI, CAT, and PET scans give us detailed knowledge of the human body without the use of a scalpel. Or a finger. And yet, after all that, there’s only one way of examining the colon and the prostate. Is that the best medical science can do?
I’m told that the Star Trek medical tricorder is still years away. But if there was ever a device that needed to go from science fiction to science reality, that would be the one. Imagine going to a Doctor’s office and having him scan us with a pocket-sized device that would tell us all our ills. That’s what I’m talkin’ about.
I’ll bet Dr. McCoy never had to do a prostate exam.
And I’ll bet Captain Kirk never had to endure one, either.