Growing up, I was fascinated with how my body worked. I sought out books that explained how my eyes and heart worked. My parents gave me a series of encyclopedias to explain the birds and the bees to me. I wish I still had them. Granted, it wasn’t the best way to learn, maybe that’ll be another blog post in the future, but those books were very important to me. I remember they were red, but that’s about it. In any event, my point is that from a young age I was interested in how my body worked. So it’s for that reason that it still amazes me how totally uninterested or clueless some patients are when it comes to their body.
Over the course of my career so far, I have encountered several patients whom after I see I can’t help but shake my head. Really? You didn’t think there was something wrong when you gained 15 lbs in your abdomen over the course of a few months?
I’ll share a few stories – remember, details have been altered or obscured so as to protect confidentiality.
There was that time when a 15 year old girl came to my office. She came with her mother, who was concerned that she hadn’t had a period in 5 months. She knew this because she made sure to look in the bathroom garbage once a month. Mother said the teen was bloated and her breasts were leaking. Really? Didn’t take me long to figure out this child was pregnant. How could the mother not know? Denial? How about the teenager? After examining her privately and auscultating a fetal heart rate, the girl still denied ever having sex. It was astounding to me. It was also incredibly disturbing and sad.
Then there was the middle-aged woman who came to my office complaining of a 15-lb weight gain in her abdomen over the course of 3 months. She wanted to know if there was a medication I could give her to help her lose weight. Upon examination, there was a huge mass in her pelvis. I didn’t even have to palpate it, but I did. Thankfully, it was a benign ovarian tumour, but my goodness, how does one not know their body? It was so obvious! She didn’t look pregnant, she looked like there was something growing out of her pelvis!
Finally, the elderly woman who came in complaining of a rash on her breast. This was no rash. She hadn’t been seen for several years, and had always declined the preventive screening tests. Turns out she’d felt a lump a year previously and ignored it. Ignored it! Those were her own words! The cancer had eaten away half her breast. Clearly this woman had a serious case of denial.
It truly amazes me how some individuals just don’t care or don’t want to know how their body functions. It’s even more concerning when a patient suspects something is wrong but is so totally consumed by fear or denial that they wait months, or years, to seek medical attention.
A few months ago, I bought my daughter a puzzle. A puzzle of the human female body.
I’ve already taught her that her belly button is also called an umbilicus. She knows she has a heart, two lungs, a brain and lots of muscles and bones. I want to instill in my children a wonder, a fascination, a love for their body. I want them to know their bodies inside and out so that if there is ever something not right, they’ll be the first to know it. It might one day save their life.