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A shred of decency

The older I get, the more medical specialists I require to stave off complete deterioration. I’ve begun attracting marketers for hearing aids, orthopedic appliances and long-term care, so it seems everyone wants my body but not in a good way.

This year’s Grand Tour of Infirmities began with the dermatologist. I have an unusual number of freckles so there’s a lot of real estate to check for skin cancer. And, no, that was not a fat joke. Examining mole borders, symmetry, and color variations is exacting work; still, my dermatologist got the better deal because she got to keep her clothes on.

Her office is on the 22nd floor, so the medical staff leaves the window coverings open with little worry about privacy. I, on the other hand, like a little mystery when stripping down to my undies and a paper garment in front of an open window. My first task was to close the blinds, possibly to the disappointment of Mr. Lonely in the high-rise two blocks away who was hoping for something young and nubile during the next appointment.

I strategically repositioned my tissue-paper gown as needed, preserving as much modesty as I could, which for the record was zero. But I abandoned all hope when the doc asked me to stand so she could examine my back. The breeze told me I was completely hanging out so at least she had easy access.

Consumed by embarrassment, my mind wandered to what would happen if the office caught fire. I weighed the pros and cons of possible escapes including (a) succumbing to a fiery death because I’d rather die than run outside looking like this, or (b) trying to escape wearing half a paper dress and finding a new dermatologist because I can never face these people again.

Meanwhile, the doc noticed white patches on my torso and pronounced a new diagnosis: vitiligo, Michael Jackson’s disease. Unfortunately, it did not endow me with Michael’s signature dance moves, which might be a blessing because I can’t afford to break a hip.

The next test on my agenda was a mammogram, an annual ritual for women of a certain age. This required me to insert the most sensitive part of my anatomy, one breast at a time, into a clear plexiglass vice while the technician tightened clamps and I cried for a meteor to release me from this hell.

Radiologic technicians undergo specialized training to master these Jaws-of-Death devices, learning to compress with gusto to a point just shy of outright amputation, and to do so with a relentless cheerfulness that makes us suspect their motives.

After the mammogram had been completed, it was on to the gynecologist for more cancer screening, probing, and a thorough discussion of stuff that was none of his or anyone else’s business. Once again, the required garb was a disposable tissue-paper assembly, worn open in the front so why bother.

His exam table was short with metal stirrups, and I was directed to “scoot down” to an edge I could not see — an exercise in trust because one false move would lead to unsightly flailing, a monumental thud, and certain hospitalization. On the bright side, all my laughing about it answered the doc’s question about stress incontinence. So there’s that.

This year’s medical agenda completed, it’s almost time for me to schedule next summer’s tour de force: the routine colonoscopy. Everyone’s favorite part of this two-day ordeal is drinking a vat of vile-tasting prep and blowing out the contents of your large intestines until you have nothing left to lose. Literally nothing.

Then, you glide into your doctor’s office starved out of your mind and several pounds lighter. During the procedure, the gastroenterologist uses a camera-equipped hose to inspect things inside the body that human eyes were never meant to see — that’s why they’re inside — via a route never intended as an entrance.

This humiliation is so great that I avoid all eye contact during the transaction. I’ve gone to the same gastroenterologist for 20 years and I barely know what the man looks like. I’m counting on him not recognizing me in the grocery store, either.

— Mary Kay Fleming

Mary Kay Fleming is a psychology professor at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati. Her personal essays appear in These Summer Months and the upcoming In Celebration of Sisters anthologies. The winner of the 2016 Erma Bombeck Writing Competition for global humor, Mary Kay writes humorous essays to maintain a rather tenuous grasp on sanity.

Reflections of Erma