One of the few places left for most of us old guys to put on a brave front is in the medical arena. We’ll probably never get the chance to stare down an escaped circus lion or capture one of the desperados on the FBI’s most wanted list. Shucks!
My earliest memory of trying to look macho during a medical procedure was as a 7-year old. I’d been knocked down by a slow-moving truck and was taken to the hospital to have my head wound stitched up. I tried to put on a brave front in the O.R., but I think my rapid pulse gave me away. I was strapped onto a table and told to count backwards from 100. We hadn’t been taught backwards counting in the second grade yet so this was a challenging mathematical exercise for a little kid. Fortunately I didn’t have to go below 96 before reaching dreamland.
Three years later I was back on the same table waiting to have my appendix removed. My feigned bravery was unconvincing again and Joe Cool was soon firmly strapped down, but I got the count all the way down to 92. I bragged about this later to a nurse, but she said the record was set at 65 the day a surgeon dropped the scalpel and they had to find a sterile replacement.
About eight years later I was one of 60 Air Force rookies being herded into a dispensary to get the required battery of inoculations. I guess, since they didn’t know where each of us would eventually be stationed, we were being protected against every known contagious disease on the planet.
I tried to look unintimidated by the sight of all the hypodermic needles. My usual practice when being punctured like this was to look the other way and fake a brave grin, but we were getting shot in both arms at once, and looking forward didn’t work either because the guy in front of me was passing out. He hit the deck pretty hard. They carried him out and I never saw him again. That’s the closest I came to combat. There should be a medal for “Bravery in the face of needle-bearing medics”. I didn’t get a Purple Heart, but I noticed later that day I had two purple arms.
I’m now the victim of something they call the “White Coat Syndrome”, where the blood pressure monitor* sees right through my bravado and prints out the evidence. The syndrome is described as “a temporary hypertension that occurs in a medical setting”. Once the patient leaves the doctor’s office his systolic and diastolic readings drop down to normal. But the poor guy doesn’t know this and he’s carrying a prescription for expensive blood pressure medicine.
*The clinical name for this monitor is sphygmomanometer. There are numerous pronunciations depending on which medic you ask and the condition of his or her dentures.