Physicals Aren’t Physical Any More?

As a child, our entire family saw the same doctor for decades.  Dr. Repasky was what was then called a GP, General Practitioner.  He was an older man when I was little.  He delivered everyone of us.  My oldest brother was named after him:  John.  I suspect this was more due to the fact that the bill was not going to get paid quickly than out of respect, but he was a fixture in our lives and we did, indeed, respect him.  He seemed to remain the same age the entire time I was growing up.  He was a nice man, but serious when it came to your health. He did it all, most of it right there in his office.  Not that it was primitive like going to see Doc Baker on Little House on the Prairie but a more modern version of a similar setup.

There was a long dark stairway leading up to his second floor office.  It was cool and dark in the narrow hall. You knew everything was highly polished from the way the sunlight snuck in with you when you opened the door at the bottom to meet the dim light from a single bulb at the top of the stairs.  The stairs were shiny where the light hit them.  You could see as well as feel the way they were worn into smooth depressions on each side from the many footsteps going up and down over decades before you.

At the top of the stairs there were a number of doors with glazed and yellowed windows to the right.  The first one was the entrance to his waiting room.  His name was etched on it in gold and black letters. When you entered, the nurse would pop out to see who was there.  No glass partitions.  No complicated insurance forms and cards required.  It was utilitarian – simple and plain, nothing fancy, no special children’s area, no big screen tv spewing ads, just a few plants by the window and a few old Reader’s Digest and Highlights Magazines on a table. It was efficient.

The Doctor’s exam room was a steampunk, vintage version of today’s doctor’s exam rooms.  Much of the furnishings in it were probably antiques then. It included his large roll-top desk with a million cubby holes, several glass fronted cabinets filled with medicines, some in mysterious dark amber bottles, and all of his implements of medical torture.  It had a very high, it seemed to me as a child, examination table in the middle of the room.  It could raise up at the head end for gynecological exams or delivering a baby or lay flat.  It was a dark colored leather, worn on the edges from all the patients who’d clutched at it.

As a child I knew he was someone to look up to, respect and be somewhat afraid of – after all he had all those sharp needles and things.  The exam you got was very thorough.  If you were going for a physical, you made sure you bathed and washed every possible orifice and crack that the doctor might want to peer into.  You could expect to be fully thumped and poked and squeezed and hammered – by the reflex hammer on your knees and elbows.  (Get your mind out of the gutter people, this isn’t that kind of story.)  You were exhausted by the time you were done standing on one foot, then the other, bending over to touch your toes.  It was thorough.  But as a little one he might tap your knees with the reflex hammer a couple extra times to make you giggle and you got a lollipop after.

I like the doctor I have found presently, a PCP – Primary Care Physician.  I don’t know him well.  I start any association like this with a certain level of respect for their position, which generally erodes when I witness the inefficiencies of the office and the office staff.  Still it is early in this relationship. He is a warm, friendly man that always shakes my hand when he greets me, sometimes holding on to it a little too long.  His accent is pretty thick so I listen carefully when he is trying to tell me something.

I went for an annual physical recently at his very new age-y doctor’s office.  The office is located in an old antique home rather than an office building.  The waiting room is similar to any doctor’s office, chairs, artwork, certificates, big screen television with medical programming and a sliding glass partition to the girls behind.  They are the ones you know you need to be nice to if things are going to go well.  The exam room is completely different from the waiting area.  It is in what was the old dining room of the house complete with the original natural woodwork and deep tray ceiling.  Much of it was left as the original space.  The bay window seat has been turned into storage for the johnnies – those fabulously stylish one size does not fit all “it ties in the back” gowns.  They’ve added an examination table that looks more like massage table, a few antique glass fronted cabinets containing boxes of latex gloves and other supplies are offset by large plants and dried decorative arrangements.

It has been a while since I’ve had an annual physical, so I was ready for anything and anxious about all of it.  I expected the full boat of prodding and thumping and frowny faced warnings about my weight and other things a “woman of my age” should be aware of.  I expected a bigger frowny face when I knew I would be declining a mammogram and refusing any other invasive testing.  Well, this was not the physical of my past.  It was not remotely physical at all.

The sweet little girl from the front that ushered me in weighed me, took my temperature and attempted my blood pressure.

“Does 128 over 80 sound right?” She asked.

“Sound right?”  I asked her back, “Yes….”

“It was really faint and hard to hear,” she explained. “I’m pretty sure that is what it is.”

She went over the history she had in the laptop patient record.  Dr. Repasky kept his records in his head.  I prefer paper.  “It ties in the back,”  she said, handing me a Johnnie from the window seat when she was done.  As she left she said,  “The Doctor will be in shortly.”

As I was struggling with the ties on the Johnnie, it half off, half on and providing no coverage at all, the doctor opened the door.  I clutched it to my chest.  Before I could say anything, he backed out and shut the door.  Damn, I thought, what if he gets distracted with someone else and I have to sit in here for a half hour in this thing that does not tie in the back unless you are a size two?

He didn’t,  he must have done a quick count to twenty or something and returned.  He shook my hand and took his place in the chair behind the laptop.  Ah modern medicine!  He then went over the information in the laptop record with me for the second time in ten minutes.  He asked about the medicine I was taking for acne, told me a story about another patient with acne, but never examined my face.  He was too far away.  When he did come to the table, he listened to my heart – front and back, looked at my legs, approached the topic of a mammogram and a colonoscopy, said he respected my wishes and that was it.

No eyes, no ears, no throat, no open and say ahhhhh, no bend over and say oooooh, no nothing.  He said, “I would like to order some blood work.  They will print out the paperwork at the front window.”   Poof! he shook my hand and was gone. I am pretty sure a timer went off on that laptop saying my fifteen minutes was up and he was on his way.  Why was I even needed in the office for this physical if no one needed to really look at me and hardly touched me?  I could have taken my blood pressure, temperature and weight at home and emailed it to them.

I should be relieved actually that it was less stressful than the physical I expected.  This makes it easier for next time.  My expectations have been lowered. Thank goodness there wasn’t really anything wrong with me….he’d never have found it.  Nice man, nice demeanor.  I would say he spent maybe two minutes longer with me than the laptop, this time.

It is just my opinion, but if I can’t bring my laptop, to which I am very attached, he should not be allowed to bring his.  It is in the way.  He seems to care, but I am not sure that “Care” should be included in the title: Primary Care Physician if the doctor is hardly going to interact with your body at all.  The systems in place seem to prevent him from showing traditional medical care.  I wonder if I could locate Doctor Who’s Tardis, travel back in time and visit with Dr. Repasky for next year’s physical?  The only other option I see as equally valid is finding a child with a Playskool doctor’s kit and asking them to do the exam.

To No One In Particular

Recently I supported a Kickstarter campaign for Matt Harding of “Where The Heck is Matt?” Fame.  Part of it was to have a special message put into video format while Matt “dances” (he has a unique style doesn’t he?)  I should have edited my message better, but it is clear and it is what I hope for people – that they figure out how beautiful they are inside.  Good Job!

Check out his other videos here Where The Heck is Matt on YouTubeMy most favorite is his 2012 video.  Love that song!  Love what he does.




Church on Sunday

A few weeks ago my cousin sent me a message through Facebook:  “HI Kim! Remembering your Mom’s 82nd birthday today…I offer mass this afternoon for her and will offer my rosary tonight as well. Hope you are well and enjoying the nice fall weather! Hugs!”

That particular day would not have been my mother’s birthday but I thanked her just the same.  I know nothing about offering a mass or a rosary.  I have my mala beads and meditation and they serve a similar purpose I am sure.  It was kind of her and that I was grateful for her remembrance was all she needed to know.

Until I was about eleven, my family went to church every Sunday at a small catholic church in the relatively rural town where we lived in Ohio.  When I say “my family went” I mean, my father took us to church for the eight a.m. service, dropped us off in front at seven-fifteen or seven-thirty and picked us up after it was over.  I have no idea what he did while we were there because very little was open on Sunday mornings. He always had a used paperback western from the used bookstore we went to once a week called The Book Nook.  He was probably reading in the car parked nearby but not in the church parking lot.

We were always the first one’s there, waiting outside for the front doors to open.  It must have either looked like we had a lot to pray for or a lot to ask forgiveness for.  We were always painfully early for everything.  This constant hurry up to get somewhere and then wait was a normal pattern for us.  It took me years as an adult to break that habit and start arriving places on time or even fashionably late.  Still I have a highly developed ability to occupy myself during unexpected delays. That is my time to organize – to catalog the world around me and put it together in a way that makes sense.

My favorite part of church was the singing.  I thought my mother had the most beautiful voice I’d ever heard.  I would gaze up at her as he sang in absolute adoration. To me she had a high, sweet sounding  voice that carried the words along the music like water in a brook.   I told her this once.  And she laughed and shook her head.

“My voice?!”  she asked, shocked.  “I don’t think you were listening to me.”

I was.

Religion was a sticky subject in our family.  My father’s family was not Catholic.  His divorced and remarried sister was born again and went to an exciting, large evangelical church in Akron that televised their Sunday services.  This was not really acceptable to my mother’s family which was Catholic with a really big C.  They never accepted my father.

Though we went year round, my recollections of those Sunday mornings were that they were always very crisp and chilly.  This was probably because I had to wear a dress so my legs were generally bare. I had to put on my whitest anklet socks and hard shoes – somewhat shiny, somewhat scuffed, completely uncomfortable.  I would have preferred sneakers and jeans, but who wouldn’t.

I always stuck close to my mother after we were dropped off. My brothers had each other and friends who went to the same church so they would very quickly disappear around the side of the building.  All of my friends who were Catholic went to St. Augustine’s in a small city nearby.  As a somewhat invisible child, I spent a lot of time observing adults in their natural habitats.  Early on I was perplexed by the fact that as others arrived, the adults would stand outside the church in cliquish groups just like kids in school and gossip in hushed tones and then go inside and pretend they hadn’t just made some disparaging comments about their neighbors or friends?  God wasn’t just inside the building, I thought.  How did they not know they were seen and heard wherever they were?  I wondered. It actually made me worry for them.

Inside the church, I generally passed the time either counting the number of bald men’s heads or hats on ladies.  If the service seemed to be running long, I would classify the hats by style and color keeping track on my stubby fingers.  If you are familiar with Catholic church services there are a lot of commands to sit, stand and kneel at various times.  It all seemed very random to me.  I am convinced to this day that only the people in the front row actually know when to do which action correctly and all the rows behind them follow suit.  We never sat in the first row until my mother’s funeral service where we completely threw off the flow of the sit/stand/kneel ballet.

I never really felt the presence of God inside that church.  I always felt a presence outside, in the woods, in the garden and late at night when I watched the fireflies through my window until I fell asleep.  For me God was in nature and the outdoors was my church even then. It wasn’t anything I ever put into words at the time.  It just was what I understood without question and I understood it would not be a concept to verbalize to my mother’s family.  Church and religion was not a topic open for discussion. Church was a pretty solid concept that people depended upon in the Midwest.

I was more than overjoyed when we stopped going to church regularly because as I got older it made less and less sense to me.  Firstly, it was a social gathering which was extremely uncomfortable to me.  Secondly it was an unfair opportunity to add a school session afterwards on a weekend. It also seemed to me that religion divided people.  Not just our church, in dividing my father from our family, but all churches seemed to divide people from each other.  I didn’t get it.  We all lived in the same town, we shopped at the same grocery store, we went to the same school, we cheered on the same sports teams.  But for some reason on Sundays people from different churches seemed to look at each other differently.  There were always glances with a look of superiority at the people at the Baptist church on the opposite corner from our church, that left a bad taste in my mind.  Pretty sure the same glances were being thrown our way. I didn’t get it.  We are all focused on the same subject but with different interpretations.  Interpretations that bring together some, but separate others.

Every night I recite to myself the opening line of a poem that I first read in high school, “I thank you God for most this amazing day.”  And then as I move a mala bead along the thread in my hands, I list things for which I am grateful.  I fall asleep that way every night considering things.  I often fall asleep near the beginning of the list and don’t get very far.  Sometimes my mind wanders off and I have to bring it back to the beads.  It isn’t always a recap of the day and it certainly doesn’t represent the religion of my parents.  But it creates a place where I am not left standing outside looking in and I get it.