Oh my God. I’m forty one. And even though my abs remain stubbornly visible, and despite a recent survey of two people confirming that my erections over the past year have been some of my hardest ever, I cannot deny the obvious signs of aging – I’m listening to Radio National instead of Nova, a cuddle with Tania now only leads to the desire for sex 99 times out of 100, and just last Tuesday, at 2.15pm, I was inside Target with some slippers in my hands thinking, ‘Hmm, a pair of these would be nice for winter.’
Along with those deleterious symptoms I’ve been more conscious of the medical establishment’s insistence that men my age should not only have regular medical check-ups, but should also practice monthly self-examinations because discovering lumps, painful spots and skin abnormalities can lead to immediate dry-retching, a passing sense of self-disgust, and the early detection of cancer.
Well, not only have I been a pitiful failure at having regular check-ups, I have also failed to heed the recommendation to self-examine.
Almost anyone who knows me could tell you that I have my testicles in my own hands often – for the vague epidermal pleasure during idle times, for the security-blanket-like-comfort in times of stress, and to perform the ‘wrist watch’ or ‘the hamburger’ at parties – but I have never taken hold of my scrotum, ever, with the intent to diagnose an illness.
I have also failed, for reasons I am not really certain of, to hand my testicles over to someone more qualified to inspect them. In fact, putting my balls aside for a moment (very reluctantly you might have guessed), I have been incredibly poor at taking any part of my body to a doctor or a nurse or any other professional capable of saving me from a preventable illness. I have to admit that my approach to my personal health to this point in time has been horribly, stereotypically, male.
Archie, Lewis, Tyson and Maki are lined up on the couch in front of the TV, ready for school ahead of schedule, and I’ve got twenty minutes to do a bit of a ‘whip around’ to get on top of the housework and it’s as I’m smelling a pair of Tyson’s underwear to see if they’re fresh or ready for the wash, that I reflect on the comment I received just yesterday that I’m sending my boys a great message by modelling away from traditional male roles. I hope that’s right, I really do, but as I blink the sting from my eyes and throw Tyson’s underwear into the washing machine, I can’t deny that what I’m doing with my personal health is exactly the opposite.
When it comes to my health I have been reluctant to seek help. I have assumed a macho dismissive attitude towards any itches, aches or ailments that have made themselves known to me, and I’ve adopted a stoic silence about my concerns to the point where I very rarely even discuss them with anyone, and that includes the love of my life, RM.
I’m deep in thought and only a few forks into my current task of emptying the dishwasher when Maki screams for a glass of milk and Tyson demands a banana pancake from his lunchbox and it’s as I’m dishing out the food and feeling a rise in frustration – at how they keep their eyes on the TV while treating me like their personal gimpy servant – that I look a little further down the couch to Lewis and then Archie. Yes, they sometimes treat me exactly the same way (kids eh?) but right now their slightly more mature bodies next to the baby-like faces of their younger brothers are acting as visual confirmation of what I’m risking.
Since I’m heavily influenced by external stimuli, I attach myself to my iPhone by way of earphones and crank up ‘Don’t Call Me Baby’ for its edgy, repetitive beat. The slightly angry female vocals not only arouse me a little, but also put me under a spell of obedience and make it difficult for me to tell lies. The music acts like a clamp over my ears and within seconds the self-examination has begun.
I am on display here. This is as honest as I can be.
These are some health issues that I am aware of which put me in a higher risk bracket for an early death. I’ve been a type one diabetic since my teens and, three years ago, I was diagnosed as mildly hypertensive. My attention to diabetes has ranged from minute to minute OCD intensity to rock star once a week nonchalance. It’s a prick of a disease requiring twenty four hour a day vigilance which is beyond almost everyone diagnosed with it. I have not seen a relevant diabetes specialist, in any real sense, for over ten years.
I was prescribed medication for the hypertension but have been poor at refilling scripts and taking it. My last medical appointment for anything, apart from three minute script refills with the local bulk-billing GP, was for my vasectomy, over two years ago.
Those are my known and cerebrally accepted ailments but as I get down on hands and knees to collect several god-damn Uh-Gi-Oh cards from under the table I can’t help but feel flexible and strong and hey, do I really need this health focus? I work out several days a week and eat pretty well and just last week a woman made the comment that I’m in good shape for my age and asked ‘Do you skip?’ and even though I don’t use a skipping rope and rarely jump with anything at all, I was pretty chuffed about the compliment and…
This is where I need the intervention most. I’m not going to trust in that kind of self-talk right now. I’m going to push my sense of invincibility aside because it’s not really reliable, I don’t think, and it could actually be a kind of avoidance. There are four boys on the couch over there and I’ve had some concerns over the past two years including, but not limited to:
- a recurrent burning sensation on the side of my neck which is always exposed to the sun
- an itch in the middle of my back which has made itself apparent every single day for over a year and which is very close to a mole ugly enough to get poked by the stick of Dr Evil
- an intermittent ache in my testicles which may be related to my vasectomy but, also, may not
- a sleep pattern that can only be attributed to insomnia, and can only be partially blamed on young children
- an ulcer-like burning in my stomach whenever Hawthorn wins a premiership
- waking occasionally in panic in the middle of the night, as if I’ve run out of breath, as if I’m dying
- a sting that comes out of the blue like a bang inside my body at the place I know the kidneys lie
- very hard erections and tight abs and a woman who I love who seems to adore me (oh hang on, wrong list)
- intermittent days where my heart will spasm several times, or skip a beat, in a way that should be scary, but that no longer scares me
‘Oh,’ I think, ‘I also have a burning sensation in my big toe occasionally’ and it’s with that hand smacking, list-ending certainty that I notice that it’s 8.45 and time to switch off Don’t Call Me Baby to start the school run.
‘Okay boys, TV off, grab your bags,’ I yell, ready for the brief resistance before the flurry of activity and I’m aware, more than usual, that this is another day about to rise and fade and as precious as any other, and as we head down the hall screaming and hollering and remembering reader diaries and school hats and reminding each other of after-school activities and negotiating computer time I remind myself of how fast this all goes, of how important my presence is to these four boys, and the commitment I make before we leave the house for the smooth ride of the Tarago becomes concrete.
The world keeps on turning and waits for no one and tonight I’ll sit in front of the computer, as usual, and make myself accountable by starting the Self-Examination Dairies.
The first post will be a kind of confession. I’ll expose my insecurities, my concerns, my bowing to stereotypical pressures, the real worries I have for my own health, and I’ll throw the typical cloak of humour over the message to make it more fun to reveal. Then, who knows what will happen from one appointment or one post to the next.
I may take my balls into my own hands or see that diabetic specialist. I might even see a proctologist, or at least get my prostate probed. I may find I have something serious to battle or just a few ailments a pill or two can fix or hold off.
I’ll be as honest as possible and give everything over – all the horrible details – and even allow myself to get communal; to imagine I’m encouraging other men to reflect and open up and do the same.
For my family first. For myself second. Whatever it takes.