Without wives, men’s health suffers

I was working as a PA in an internal medicine office seeing patients.  One afternoon, I was in the clinic hallway when I saw an elderly looking wife in her 60s actually pushing her husband into the next exam room.  He had his heels dug into the floor, but she was winning, due to his obvious shortness of breath and audible wheezing.

I walked in behind the medical assistant who took his vitals, as I listened to his lungs.  I asked the assistant to get the nebulizer and bring it back into the room for the patient to use.

I asked Bill, the husband “what brings you in?”  He told me, “ask her” pointing at his wife who was now sitting in a chair.

I turned to his wife to see an exasperated, angry, stern look on her face.  She quickly spilled out, “He’s been wheezing since this morning.  He was coughing last night.  He has asthma.  I told him to take his Advair this morning, but he said he didn’t need it.  Then he started wheezing an hour later.  But he still wouldn’t take his Advair.  At times, he’s too stubborn for his own good.  That’s why I called up this morning. He needs help!”

After giving Bill the nebulizer treatment, he was breathing easier, I asked him, “Okay, when was the last time you used your inhalers?”

“I used my ventolin last night.  I haven’t needed to use my Advair inhaler, so I quit using it two weeks ago.”

With that his wife became unglued.  Her eyes became fiery and she accusingly said to Bill, “you quit your Advair inhaler?  When are you going to learn that you don’t stop your maintenance medications just because you’re feeling alright?”

Bill shot back, “I only take the Advair when I think I need it, I don’t take it every day.”

His wife didn’t let up.  “You take the Advair every day whether you think you need it or not.  When are you finally going to admit you need Advair?”

Bill didn’t have a reply as he sat quietly on the exam table.

I had seen this scenario played out many time in my years of working in clinical medicine.  It was typically the man who refused to be seen by a physician or admit that he was ill and needed help.  It would be the wife or significant other who would drag their spouse into the clinic office to be seen.

On the whole, male patients believe they’re “okay” and nothing will happen to them.   And their refusing to get help can be a killer, men dying of a heart disease because they refused to admit they were having chest discomfort, for instance.

If it wasn’t for the wives in the picture, men’s health suffers.  It’s the wives who bring their male companions into be seen.  It’s generally the wives who keep the men in their lives on track regarding their health.  Thank goodness for wives!

Sharon Bahrych is a physician assistant who blogs at A PA View on Medicine.

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  • http://www.andromeda-med.blogspot.com AndromedaMed

    I have forwarded this article to my husband. He was not amused. =)

    • Doug Capra

      Let’s grant that men don’t see doctors as often as women — for various reasons. Why don’t we delve into the reasons? Or is it just than men are stubborn, stupid children and need to be treated a such.
       The the lack of respect shown to this gentleman is amazing. Not just by his wife but by the clinc or  hospital. What I didn’t see was anyone at the clinic or hospital separating him from his wife, sitting him down, and talking with him. He’s an individual and deserves this kind of respect. Ask him while he’s alone: Why didn’t you come in earlier? Why did you stop taking your medicine? Let’s talk. No — just listen to the wife. It’s pretty standard to separate couples at least when talking with the wives — give the wife a chance to speak honestly in case there is spousal abuse. Maybe there are other issues in this relationship that need examining.  I’m not saying wives don’t care about this husbands and don’t want them healthy. But people, men too, have the right to refuse treatment. And they have the Yes, keep treating men like children, keep showing them abject disrespect and some men will continue to feel that clinics and hospitals dominated by female receptionists, nurse, cna’s, med techs, etc. — and not friendly places to visit. 
           I realize that this is not the politically correct position to take. But what I read, and I suggest what some other men may read in this story, is not just a wife caring for her husband, which this certainly is — but also a very paternalistic, and disrespectful attitude from everyone around.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joanne-Wakelin/100000764422863 Joanne Wakelin

        Doug, I found your comments very interesting.  Until you raised these issues, I did not think about them in the scenario.  Although if the sex of each of the participants had been reversed it would have been quite a jarring story.

        Both my husband and I live with a chronic disease that makes you deteriorate physically with age.  Any new health issues are frightening because we know how devastating health changes can be.  Consequently, sometimes my husband will have a small issue that he leaves for a while, because he cannot cope with yet another medical problem right now.  I accept this because I can understand it – we can all only cope with so much at a time.

        Also when you have a chronic condition, if you are not careful, you can feel that your life is dominated by medical constraints which frankly is depressing.  For example, not being able to go on holiday without loading up a medicinal cornucopia can be miserable.  The yearning to be independent of medication can be quite strong.

        I have found that a lot of health professionals seem to be insensitive to the dreariness of constant medication and the conditions that go with it.  It is also demoralising to not feel in control of your life.

        So this is a very long way of saying, I think you are right, the poor man was treated with a complete lack of respect.  Maybe more thought should go into how to make clinic visits an uplifting experience along with more understanding of and support for the psychological impact of a life bound by the constant medication required to treat chronic conditions.  It is possible that more of this type of support is required for men, given that anglo-saxon based cultures require them to be in control – maybe loss of that control is more demoralising than it is for some women.

        • Doug Capra

          Joanne — Thank you for your thoughtful response. By the way, sorry for all the typos in my last post. It got sent off accidently before I had a chance to edit it. To be clear — I think there are stereotypes about men to the effect that they either don’t care about their health or that they need to be led by the hand by the women in their lives. I’m not saying there’s not some truth to this — but it is a stereotype and it doesn’t fit all men. I’m all for females as well as male providers — some men prefer women providers; some women men. It can vary depending upon the situation. But men and women often see life differently, and when any profession is dominated by one gender, you get group think. No one argues the existence of the “old boys club.” Well, there’s an “old girls club” as well. The writer of the above article states: “I had seen this scenario played out many time in my years of working in clinical medicine.” In some ways it’s a double standard, the way men are treated. Can you imagine a man “dragging” his wife into a clinic to get a mammogram basically against her will, the wife saying she doesnt’t want one and resisting him? And the husband saying: “At times,she’s too stubborn for her own good. We can all agree that mammogram is not a bad thing for a woman to have, and that the husband would be thinking of his wife’s health. But how would those in a clinic address that situation? Think about it. 

          • Anonymous

            Interesting thread – I prefer to go to the doctor’s office alone and my husband also typically goes by himself, too.  I believe we both need time to talk to our physician confidentially.  However, my husband has Parkinson’s and we have a two-hour drive to see his specialist, so for these visits I go with him.  Although he is doing extremely well with this illness, we both feel it is important that we both know where he stands and two sets of ears are helpful.  But for routine visits, as long as we are able, we’ll handle this separately.  I do have to comment on the writer’s description of a woman in her 60′s as elderly, talk about stereotyping, but that’s a topic for another day.

  • Anonymous

    Boy, do I relate to that! Must admit, that my husband is usually, pretty good about listening to the doctors and following their advice. But, every once in awhile, he will get his ‘manly stubborness’ up and balk.

    In our last visit to the doctor, he didn’t want to take off his shoes, to show his bad fungus toenails. He was embarassed, but, I knew that, it was time for some medication, to correct this problem. He is diabetic and has heart disease. Foot care is especially, important for any Diabetic. He was not happy with me, for insisting. Bottom line, he knows it was the best thing, to do and is taking his medicine daily, understanding that this was the only option.

    I also, go with my husband when he sees all of his doctors. I have a strong medical background, having worked in the Surgical Field for over 25 years. He doesn’t hear well, due to being a machinist for over 40 years. I can better understand what the doctors are saying, plus I remember the details better, than he does. As you can tell, we are both retired, now.

    I am so glad, that I have an excellent rapport with all of his doctors. In fact, they like seeing us. We are also, extremely fortunate, that we have a wonderful clinic in our hometown, that has over 130 doctors, in a wide range of specialities.

  • Anonymous

    adromedamed: when I showed your one sentence comment to a few of my colleagues they all agreed:  you said it all in one fell swoop, men definitely need wives in their lives!

  • Juste Zagunaite

    So true :)

  • Anonymous

    if any of you would like to read the whole story of this couple, you can go to my blog (listed above) and read it. 

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