Ok Guys, Real Talk: Why Do Men HATE Going to the Doctor?
It’s a universal truth, isn’t – men around the world will do anything to get out of going to the doctor. But our resident doc and all-round good guy Dr Lance O’Sullivan is on a mission to change that, one bloke at a time. He speaks to Dominic Bowden.
Dr Lance, how bad is it?
I’ve been involved in men’s health in Kaitaia for a long time, and when I first arrived many years ago, one of the sayings from the local men was, “We’re here for a good time, not a long time”. That shocked me – that there was a sense out there, a mentality that, you know, we may not make it past 60, but we’ve had a good innings.
It’s crazy, and it really does talk to the point you’re making, which is the difference between the life expectancy between a male and a female in New Zealand. Certainly there’s a number of things, genetics and otherwise, but the other is just women are a lot better at seeing a doctor when they feel sick, and also just generally looking after their health.
As a doctor, what’s your opinion on why people are so scared of coming to see you?
Women, very often, feel very comfortable in a doctor’s room or a medical clinic. Generally they’re primary caregivers for children, and so they’re often taking their children to see a doctor for different things. Women go in regularly for smears and they’re there for mammograms and contraception. So I remember learning this, and it made complete sense to me that, women have a natural connection with medical services, because they’re so involved in it.
Men on the other hand, hardly ever go in for these things. We put the responsibility of contraception onto our partners, men have been historically at work, this is stereotyping, but generally we’re at work and not taking kids to the doctors. And we don’t have other reasons to go so, there’s a little bit of a lack of connection there with medical services.
Part of it is there’s a sense of fear, like what I don’t know doesn’t hurt me. And also a little bit of bravado, she’ll be right. And I always used to say to people when you’re 20 or 30, and you are playing rugby and you’re pretty fit, you could get away with eating five pies a week or drinking booze all the time. But when you get to 45, and you’re retired from your sport, which was keeping you active and you still have that lifestyle, things go south.
And I guess that leads us right into what should men right now be doing less or more of to improve their health?
First of all it’s just being aware of what’s going on with you, and it doesn’t mean going to the doctor’s every month even. It’s just being aware of things like, what’s your blood pressure? What’s your diabetes status? What’s the risk for a heart disease? Do you have strong family history for certain ailments?
Just get it out there and find out that information. And you can do that by seeing your local nurse, your local doctor, you can even do it at your local pharmacy.
This morning I saw a friend of mine who’s seven years older than me. And I just said, we’ve got to get your blood pressure checked, because he has some kidney problems that are developing. An easy way to do that is go to the chemist. So, him and I went along to the pharmacy this morning, and we had his blood pressure checked and actually, it was really
This is a really easy way for you to get your blood pressure checked: you just come in once a week, once a month, get it done, and then we’ll figure out whether we need to medicate you.
I got my blood pressure checked while I was there. It’s usually really good, but it was actually high and I went, ‘oh wow’. That’s not good. So, I’m going to start checking that and part of it is I’m 50 this year. I’m carrying more kilos than I should, I’m not exercising as much as I should. My diet’s not as good as it should be. So, I’ve got to take a look at the mirror and go, ‘okay, I can’t just talk about what people should be doing, I’ve got to reflect that’. It’s really interesting but bottomline, if you don’t check, you don’t know.
Let’s just stay with that for a second and talk about you – I think there’s a lot of things that could easily cause trauma. You working on the frontline of MIQ and all the pressure the medical industry causes as a whole has just been in a pressure cooker. How does that show up with your mental health?
I’m very good mental health-wise, I think that my fitness from that point of view is good. I’ve gone through periods of stress and some of it is work related. Working on MIQ’s frontline was the most stressful part of my working career in recent times, if not ever. We were dealing with very sick people. We’re struggled on how to manage them, and in MIQ versus where they should be which is a hospital, but we couldn’t flood the hospitals for these patients. Even thinking of it now, it was very hard.
For me personally I’ve embarked on a very, sort of comprehensive health regime this year, which is looking at getting all my sort of heart checks done, gastro colonoscopies, I’ve had scans on everything – just checking everything out. I’m having surgery on a small health issue that I just want to get on top of before I’m older.
Everyone’s got work-ons right, no one’s sitting here knowing exactly how to do it. I think it’s great for you to share those sorts of stories. What are the things that a man should tell a doctor, even if the doctor doesn’t ask?
Number one: we want to hear from people regarding their risk of heart problems is. Tell us about your family, your parents and your siblings. Number two is to be open about symptoms. I had a very good friend of mine who described having some recent illness which included blood in the stools. You just have to be okay sharing that kind of thing with your doc. it’s really important when you’ve got symptoms like that you share them – like sexual dysfunction, it can be a sign of heart disease or diabetes. You, don’t have to be afraid of talking about things that are awkward.
When you’ve got a relationship with a health clinician, or health professional, these are things that we need to know. Interestingly, I used to get most information for my male patients from their partner. When a man comes in on his own, he tells me half a story but if he comes in with his wife or partner, you’ll get the full picture.
Beyond being a doctor, you’re a dad. I think mental health in general is something that we all want to get better at, and putting on your dad hat, what are you telling your kids? And how are you encouraging them to have more healthy conversations?
I told them Dad’s doing a big health movement this year around my physical health in terms of getting all my checks done, because I am 50 this year and I want to look at going another 50 years, right? I think I’ve got a good headstart on that because I don’t drink a lot, I don’t smoke, I’ve got no other health problems. You you can’t future-proof everything, but you can’t try to predict things unless you’ve got insights into what may be going on.
I also talked with them about a last year when I was really stressed with work, and it was hard because as a father – and I’m sure a lot of people can relate to this – you want to be seen as that strong, protective lead for the family. Being able to share with your children and say, ‘hey look I’m struggling’, was quite interesting. It was when I was going through this incredibly stressful time with MIQ, but it was important for my children to know, ‘hey we’re all capable of coming under stress’. It was a short period of time, but I think it was also good for the children to have insights into, ‘heck, actually, Dad’s finding it really hard right now’. So it was it was good for me to I guess be a bit vulnerable, right?
Gratitude is a great practice so to finish here, what are you feeling grateful for?
I’m grateful for the fact that I’ve got through a lot of challenges in my life. I’m in a good position and I’m not just talking sort of materially talking, I’ve got lovely children, grandchildren, and a sense of what I need to do to help see me through a long, productive and enjoyable life. I think that’s a really good position to be in and I’m grateful for it.