I was in need of a medical tune-up, so on a whim, I called, and the receptionist said the doctor could fit me in the late afternoon. I thought it would be a quick visit. I would be put up on the hoist and be back on the road in short order. When I got there, the waiting room was full of the usual suspects: sick people and snotty kids pushing the hand sanitizer lotion button over and over again. There was also a guy with a fishhook on the side of his cheek. It was the opening day of walleye season, and his buddy was behind him in the boat and didn’t cast quite far enough. Fishhook Guy was flirting with Broken-Arm Woman. She didn’t give him the time of day. Perhaps because she didn’t find a man with a fishhook in his cheek attractive. Or perhaps because she was flirting with the Prisoner Man sitting beside her. She must not have seen the uniformed escort because I heard her ask Prisoner Man, “Where are you from?” To which he replied, “A gated community.”

As Broken-Arm Woman was called into the exam room, Prisoner Man winked at me. I averted my eyes. Not because I’m against dating a man in prison, it’s just that I know if I smile back, he’ll start telling me about his medical problems. I only listen to people’s medical problems if I gave birth to them. So, I bury my head in an old magazine, a Chatelaine from the ’70s with Helen Reddy on the cover. Although I pretended to be interested in how she wrote the song “I Am Woman,” I couldn’t help but be drawn into listening to the conversation between Fishhook Guy, Prisoner Man and the uniformed escort. Fishhook Guy starts mouthing off about doctors. He sounded like my dad. My dad wouldn’t go to the doctor either. He was a cowboy, a hombre. He worked fixing up houses and when he came home from a job there’d be a big hunk of skin missing, and we’d ask, “Dad, where’s your elbow?” He’d look down and say, “Oh God, I thought I was missing something.”

“Damn doctors don’t know anything,” he’d say.

Prisoner Man must have read my mind because he turned to me and said, “Men are hunters and they don’t like being vulnerable.”

I was tempted to say federal prison would make you vulnerable, but I didn’t because I wanted to stay out of it. I kept my head down and my mind wandered as I tried to recall statistics I heard when I took medicine at Queen’s. Or was it that I took drugs at Queen’s? Or maybe it was something with somebody at the Queen’s Hotel in Napanee? I remember somebody telling me if a man is having a heart attack, he will deny it. He’ll say, “Don’t call 911. I just have a little indigestion.”

But, if the same man actually had indigestion, he’d burp in your face and say, “Sorry babe.”

In fact, the male psyche is confusing. A man says he’s macho and doesn’t want to be weak, but when that same man gets a sniffle, he’ll be flattened on the couch unable to reach for the remote. Big babies with a man cold. No machismo, just a lot of coughing and hacking in your general direction. I think that’s why the idea of polygamy was never a woman’s idea. No woman would ever get up one day and say, “Hey, I think I am going to get me 17 husbands.” That would be 17 men who would get sick, likely on the same day.

I read one study that said men find it hard to go to the doctor because the waiting rooms are not male-friendly. Well, maybe we could decorate it like a hunting camp? Put some moose heads on the wall? Or design the office like a mechanic shop? They could drive in, bend over the engine and get their prostate checked and an oil change at the same time.

All of these thoughts were running around my brain when Prisoner Guy winked at me and said, “I guess women are used to being poked and prodded, so they’re more comfortable than a man.”

I turned and looked at him and thought, No wonder you’re in jail. You likely said that to a female judge. I smile and think, Yes man, you’re right. In fact, the week before when the mammogram technician was like a clown twisting my left breast into a balloon animal, tightening the vice-grip device over what’s left of my post-menopausal mammary, I thought to myself, Whew this is relaxing. Good thing I am not a man.

Or a year before, when I put my feet up in the silver stirrups covered in oven mitts. The doctor entered with his miner’s light and didn’t even say hello. He said, “Scooch.” Scooch is never a comfortable word for a woman. And it’s not just the physical discomfort; it’s the emotional discomfort. My doctor is a doctor without social borders. Why does he get all chatty when he’s south of the border? Once he’s got out of the salad servers, he starts talking about his golf game. One time he said he saw me on stage the night before. Another time he said, “Oh, you’ve been to the beach.”

As I mentioned, my doctor has no sense of timing. One time while he was south of the border, he said, “I see your tonsils are swollen.”

He had been looking at my throat 10 minutes before, but he didn’t say anything then. It was like he was a CNN news anchor reporting from Baghdad, where there is a time delay in his response.

So I shot back, “Can you see them from that angle?” He got embarrassed and said, “Uh no, I mean, well, I am an ear, nose and throat man by trade, and I was just thinking…”

So no, it is not comfortable for me, Prisoner Man. It’s not comfortable for any of us,

Suck it up, buttercup.

Act like a woman. During the yucky parts, lie back and think of England.

A prison in England.

Of course, I didn’t say this to Prisoner Man. I didn’t know what he’d been in for. That, and the receptionist was ready to see me now.

I went in. I got up on the table and put my feet in the stirrups with the oven mitts. He came in and told me to scooch down a bit and began talking about shooting a ball into the rough while I lay there reading pithy cartoons on the ceiling, humming “I am woman, hear me roar.”

( republished from 2011)


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That’s the way of writing. It’s a solo sport.
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