Afraid of the Bogeyma– Er, the Doctor

Exam Table

I still remember the doctor my parents forced me to see regularly as a child. Dr. Villavicencio (even trying to pronounce his name was scary) was a short, squat Spaniard who never smiled and spoke with a thick accent. He strongly resembled Droopy Dog with glasses, though this did not endear him to me. I would sit in his small shadowy waiting room’s itchy tweed chairs, feeling my dread build as I anxiously turned pages in the latest Highlights magazine or the Picture Bible that seemed to be a staple in every waiting room then. Dr. Villavicencio was not a kid-friendly doctor and his intimidating presence and the overwhelming smell of alcohol in the exam room was enough to terrify me. It was here, I know, that my fear of doctors began.

As I got older, that anxiety didn’t dissipate. At 10 years old, it extended to dentists when I overheard my dentist say to the hygienist, his fat fingers in my small mouth, “Wow, it’s like a garbage can in here.” (Bio-mom wasn’t exactly big on keeping up with my dental hygiene.) Dr. Villavicencio finally retired in my pre-teens, prompting a visit to a pediatrician – but the pediatrician immediately commented on my weight. No more whole milk, and lets get her into a nutritionist (who gave me a list of things I shouldn’t eat that comprised the whole of my diet at the time). I learned then that doctors were people who told you what you didn’t want to hear. And they weren’t always nice about it.

With my first pregnancy, regular doctor’s appointments were a must, and I finally adapted some semblance of a regular check-up routine (having completely abandoned them after my last visit with my bio-mom’s doctor who again hammered at me about my weight). My current OB/Gyn, a no-fuss, no-muss, cold, slim slip of a woman informed me she was no longer handling the OB part of OB/Gyn, so it was time for the nail-biting process of finding a new doctor. My friend Delyn had recommended hers, a man named Dr. Choudhry, and at first I’d balked. I didn’t do male doctors anymore after Dr. Villavicencio – but she insisted, even promising to come with me for the first appointment, so I relented. What a shock when, rather than meeting him for the first time on the exam table, tissue balling under my naked tush, ill-fitting robe closed awkwardly over my naked chest, Dr. Choudhry actually ushered me into his office where we could chat while I still had all my clothes on. When it was time for the exam, a nurse accompanied him and he conducted my physical gently while murmuring to me in reassuring tones. Afterwards, back to his office for another chat, and when we did talk about my weight, it was because I brought it up, worried for the pregnancy. His only response was an easy reminder to make sure I kept my daily intake to 2000 calories and not to worry too much. It was an awakening to the idea that doctors weren’t always scary, and they could actually be kind.

Moving to Maine from the DC area when my youngest was just shy of five years old brought all my old fears back, though. It had been years since my last dental checkup, even a couple of years since my last physical. I waited another three years before I saw a doctor again. I’m not sure what the catalyst was to my deciding it was time to get a check-up, but I finally got some recommendations from friends and made an appointment with a woman in town – and again, I was pleasantly surprised. Not once did she mention my weight, and she actually made an effort to get to know me. And as a side bonus, she diagnosed my thyroid issues – finally the fatigue and depression I’d been chalking up to long Maine winters were being resolved. Feeling like I was on a roll, I visited the dentist after nine years, and when I somehow got off without a cavity (taking care of my teeth had never been a priority for me either even after the “garbage can” comment), I decided not to waste my good luck – I’m now a brushing, flossing, Listerine Total Care swishing fiend.

After those appointments, I realized what had kept me from the doctor (and the dentist) for too long was simple: fear. Not just fear of the doctor, but more fear of what they would say. Every time I would think about making an appointment, I would picture the doctor saying in a disbelieving voice, “It’s been how long since your last appointment?” or “Listen, your mother died because of her weight – do you really want to go down that road?” I would live those uncomfortable conversations, picturing myself awkwardly trying to justify myself with nervous laughter and sideways looks, and I just couldn’t pick up the phone. Or I would conjure up one horrible-news-scenario after another until the anxiety over the possibility of being told something was wrong with me destroyed any possibility of going in for that checkup. But the reality was, none of those conversations/scenarios ever happened. And even if they had happened, they wouldn’t have killed me – they could only have helped me in the long run.

Thanks to my thyroid, I’m on a pretty regular check-up schedule. And between Dr. Choudhry in Virginia, my doctor here in Maine, and the doctor I used for a year in Hawaii (who was so awesome she even remembered my name when we ran into each other at Starbucks!), I’ve lost a lot of my fear. But either way, I’ve come to realize doctors – whether of traditional or holistic medicine – are a necessary and important part of staying on the road to Wellville. They help you set goals, monitor your progress, watch for warning signs like high cholesterol and high blood pressure, and give you support and cheer you on as you progress toward a healthier lifestyle. Maybe if I’d conquered my fear sooner, I would have ended up on the right track sooner, I don’t know. But if you’re reading this and identifying with it, and it’s been awhile since that last checkup, stop reading, and pick up the phone. If you don’t like your doctor, call a friend and ask who they see and whether they like him or her. If you do like your doctor, even if it’s been years since you saw him or her, call them right now anyway. Staying in a state of denial and/or ignorance of what’s happening with your body doesn’t really help anyone in the long run, better to know what’s happening so you can evaluate the best course from there. And hey, while you’re on the phone with your friend, ask him or her to come with you, hold your hand, and walk down the road to Wellville with you.

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Categories: Honesty is Healthy:

Author:Dory Diaz Photography

Dory is a professional wedding and portrait photographer, writer, and social media addict.

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