Saturday, November 21, 2009

Knowledge November - Day 22 - Reading will make you (want to) go blind

I am an automatic reader. Cereal boxes, graffiti, traffic signs, upside-down articles being read by other people; it all goes in via the eyes and is unconsciously deciphered by my brain.

A trip to the doctors' is a visual feast of reading matter, and that's without even considering the out of date magazines on the coffee table: 'Brad and Jen - pregnant at last' or information pamphlets on the counter: 'STDs and You.'

My bladder was starting to squeak every time I crossed my legs, so I tentatively snuck into the toilet adjoining the waiting room. Hindsight is a regretful and pointless exercise, but I've discovered that it's not fun being an automatic reader when using the toilet facilities in a medical centre. Besides, you're at a medical centre - aren't you already worried enough about your health to have made the effort to go there in the first place?

Blue-tacked on the wall directly in front of me and expertly aligned at eye level was a cobalt blue poster screaming: DO YOU SUFFER FROM BLADDER WEAKNESS?

Um, well 'yes' for right at that moment, because that's why I was in there, reading the bladder blurb. But then the infernal poster asked, HAVE YOU EVER...? and the Wound-up WorryWart barely repressed within me took over. 'Do you plan your day around where toilets are located? Do you avoid exercise in case of urine leakage? Laughing? Do you choose to miss the bus instead of running to catch it?' Oh dear....

I dragged my eyes away and looked above the basin instead. GET TO KNOW HERPES, the red brochure stuck on the mirror commanded.

After a few moments, my knowledge of the condition had considerably increased. For example, did you know that one of the first signs of genital herpes might in fact be flu-like symptoms, as in sore muscles, headache, fever or chills? Apparently the herpes microbe creature germ thingies prefer 'soft skin' such as lips, genitals and the anus and it's cheering to know that approximately one-in-eight Aussies have the condition. Who cares about what we spend on health as part of our GDP when we have a statistic like that to be proud of. Mention that during the lull in your next dinner party conversation.....

Back on the bog things were not improving, reading matter-wise, because next to the loo roll holder a nurse had tactfully placed a sticker, advising that BOWEL CANCER IS A MALIGNANT GROWTH THAT STARTS IN THE LARGE BOWEL (COLON) OR RECTUM.

That seemed correct and yet was surely very bad luck for the poor bastards who had it. But
wait, there was more sobering news for any of us automatic-readerbathroom butt-heads who couldn't help but read further: 'A faecal occult blood test is used to effectively and efficiently screen for cancer.'

Well you'd certainly hope it was effective for the stress of having to back out a big one, catch it without spillage or splashing and then carry it into the doctor's office in a hopefully non-transparent tupperware container. And yet: 'These are not diagnostic tests - they cannot tell if you have cancer. They are used to identify people who need further testing.' That didn't sound at all comforting and I started to wonder what the diagnostic testing stage would be like - a three kilogram sample that is required to be crapped out into a four litre icecream carton and refrigerated at home for a week before delivery?

Understandably, I wasn't expecting too much positive news when my eyes then unwillingly alighted upon the sticker on the liquid soap dispenser. 'Crohn's disease and ulcerative collitis (IBD) can cause diarrhoea, rectal bleeding, abdominal pain and can adversely affect the eyes, skin and joints.' It was all fabulous, really. Still, at least, typed in bold, was the hopeful question we all yearned for: 'How can this be treated?' After mentioning a few drugs, the brochure sadly concluded, 'Unfortunately, despite much research, the exact cause of IBD is still unknown.' Marvellous.

After an exaggerated eternity it was finally time to flush, re-dress the southernmost parts of my body, wash my hands, dry off and get the hell out of the scary little room. And yet my urge to read the rest of the material overtook my sense of foreboding. 'Skin Spots to Watch' sported some truly gorgeous colour photographs of basal cell carcinomas, squamos cells, melanomas and Seborrhoeic Keratoses to look forward to the next time I dared ask the doctor to connect the dots on my back; heaps of blah about a new contraceptive implant that admitted in tiny print 'this, like other contraceptive devices, is not 100% effective'; and the eye-wateringly witty 'Managing Menopause and Osteoporosis.'

As my now-shaky hands reached for the door handle to escape into hopefully more positively-decorated waiting room, the smallest poster caught my eye. Ah, the irony of it - 'Come see us at the Anxiety Disorders Clinic - we will help you stop having those panic attacks.'

What I really needed was to be more like my brothers, who choose to read, bless 'em.


Plastic Mancunian said...

G'Day Kath,

One of the reasons I hate going to the doctor is mt tendency to be a hypochondriac.

By the time I get to see the doc, having read all the leaflets (because I've had to wait so long), the answer to his question "What seems to be the matter" becomes


I hate doctors.




River said...

"These are not diagnostic tests..."
My point exactly. By the time your bowel gets to bleeding stages isn't it often too late? My mum died from bowel cancer and I've had the stool testing several years in a row now, all clear so far, but doctors keep telling me that's all I need to do in the absence of other symptoms. I think I'd rather have a colonoscopy, yes, I know it's an uncomfortable procedure, but I'd prefer knowing definitely there's nothing sinister going on in there. I'm going to have to start insisting.
I'm a compulsive reader too.

Kath Lockett said...

Plastic Man, I've all learned from this experience is to always go to the toilet *before* I go to the doctors. That way, all I automatically read is the label on the loo paper and the soap dispenser.

River, a colonoscopy is an uncomfortable procedure (I've had two) but if anything's 'up there' (or is it 'down there' if you're standing?) it'll find it.