Mens' health through the eyes of a reluctant patient

I was in denial. 

I had had a heart attack later estimated to be of a severity of 6 on a scale of 10.  I had been light headed, had tried to vomit and there had been some tightening of the chest but no angina and I had walked some 3 km home after the attack.  I took a couple of Disprin, slept well, and whilst not feeling well, drove to work the next day.  After pressure from colleges (but under protest and presenting much resistance), I saw my GP about 22 hours after the attack and the subsequent blood test resulted in me being admitted as an emergency patient at the Epworth.  This story, which does me no credit, is told to illustrate one of the problems in dealing with men’s health.  How can a problem be treated when it is not recognised?

Freemasonry rightly gives much attention to the subject of men’s health.  After all, we are a brotherhood and obligated to care for each other.  Men’s health is a major segment of the health market.  Occasionally a professional from the service providers is asked to address seminars on the subject and to lead discussions and it would be difficult to fault the statistical information provided.  However, there seems to be little or no formal opportunity for the users of the health system – you and I, to give feedback to the system on how it has affected us.  Few people want to talk about their illnesses and most of us do not want to listen anyway.  So we end up being told what we want to hear. 

No doubt men do present special health problems.  As a child you did not want to appear a “wimp” or a “winger” by complaining about being “out of sorts”.  Until you are 30 something you really feel immortal, being prepared to fight boldly in foreign wars, playing sport hard and pushing your body to the limits socially to be one of the boys.  Because men are generally stronger and are more engaged in manual pursuits and employment; some of their joints simply wear out.  Or if they are not wounded in one of those foreign wars some remain emotionally scarred for life.  I do not know one former combat infantry soldier, plant operator or boilermaker who does not suffer from some measure of hearing impairment. 

More often than not as the principal wage earner for the family they feel that they cannot afford to be sick or to give the boss the impression that they may become unreliable.  Many do not take their full entitlement of annual leave for the same reason and this has the added bonus of providing a little financial nest-egg should it be needed.  Many men feel that as a father their role model include responsibilities demonstrating that you must be prepared to “get on with life” despite all adversities.  Now I am retired I spend more time in doctor’s waiting rooms than I want to and there is one notable similarity between them all (besides the out-of-date female magazines) – very few male patients. 

The stress and boredom of house work by women is recognised as is the burden of pregnancy the difficulty of childbirth and nurturing.  These days the challenges of mothers coping with children by themselves adds to the strain even though I feel much of their problem of often self inflicted.  Meanwhile, the divorce system unduly stresses men.  Women have different health problems, too, that we all read about when there is a celebrity involved.  Nevertheless, with all these problems, women statistically live longer. 

I had a serious illness when I was 16 but for the next almost 45 years I was incredibly fit.  Since then I have had three major illnesses needing our health system and I think that this allows me to offer some advice on how to make the best of the health system from a male’s point of view. 

Ø  Review the suitability of your GP. He or she may be an old mate but does

your GP make an objective appraisal of your current condition or just focus on what you saw him for last time?  Does you GP say “Well, you have to expect these things when you get older” when he or she does not know what to do, or says after listening to you heart “You may have a bit of a murmur” when you have a faulty valve and should be referred to a Cardiologist?  Worse still, is you GP too old and hearing impaired to hear with a stethoscope?  Can you talk openly and honestly with your GP?  Is your GP too over-willing to prescribe antibiotics and unwilling to refer you to a specialist?  Does your GP read all of the pathology reports and fail to investigate possible alternative reasons for your condition when the treatment for the most obvious one fails?  Does you GP want to refer you to a specialist of the same sex rather than the most suitable?  Does your GP offer home visits? 

Ø  If you go to a clinic offering specialist diagnostic services be sure that it is going to do more than your GP but recognise that it will probably not provide all the follow-up services that are provided by a good GP. 

Ø  Go to a different GP to the one treating your wife or partner.  Go by yourself so that you do not get too much “help” when answering questions. 

Ø  A good GP is more likely to refer you to good specialists who are in turn more likely to refer you to good surgeons. 

Ø  If you have a cardiac problem including high blood pressure get yourself to a Cardiologist as soon as possible. 

Ø  When you are in the hands of a specialist or surgeon - you are on the right track. 

Ø  I am reliably informed that public hospitals in the main only employ good surgeons. Make sure that your surgeon operates in a public hospital.

Ø  My Cardiologist told me that a nation’s maximum cholesterol level depends on what the nation is prepared to spend on health: in the UK it is 6.5, in Australia it is 5.5 (my level before my heart attack) but in Italy which has the best statistics for heart disease it is 4.5 if you have not had a heart attack, and below 4.0 if you have had one (mine is now 3.8). 

Ø  Have private health cover if you can possible afford to do so. 

Ø  Private health cover does not necessarily cover the costs of admittance into Emergency if you are not subsequently hospitalized. 

Ø  A Veteran’s Gold Card will not necessarily be readily accepted for full payment of medical services. 

Ø  Most medical providers do their best but GPs that “bulk bill” in particular are under tremendous pressure.  We saw the same problem in Malaya many years ago with the British National Health Service where waiting rooms were overcrowded with people that needed little more than a band-aid or a couple of Aspirin.  It was hard for the genuinely ill to get timely and appropriate treatment.  I think we need a small co-payment. 

My advice is not based on a random selection of rumours but unfortunately from my own life experience.  There are things that a visiting health professional will probably not tell you at a seminar.  I hope that all readers will all benefit from my experience.  You have to take responsibility for how you manage your own health.  You should deal with your health problems as far as possible then put them behind you, get an interest, and get on with life.

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