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My Prostate Exam

by Paul Michelson

Number Five, Painted Symbol Design

A retired teacher and state employee living in Davis, California, Paul was working on several articles, mostly travel-related, when his son was born. So much for his writing. Now that his son is in college, he’s doing some writing again.

The last couple of times I’ve visited my oncologist’s office for my prostate exam I’ve had to fill out a questionnaire. It asks about frequency of urination, how often I have sex, and so on. During the exam my oncologist looks it over while we talk about how I’ve been doing the past year. Admittedly, since it doesn’t touch on issues I really worry about I’ve tended to fill it out quickly and without much thought.

The evening after my latest exam, I was out walking with my wife when I found myself muttering, “What an idiot . . .  Why did I put that?” “What are you mumbling about?” my wife asked. I told her about the questionnaire. “You mark a number showing how often you urinate, how often you have sex each month, things like that.” I paused. “I think I might’ve exaggerated about the sex.”

“What’d you put—five?” my wife asked. “No,” I said, a little offended, “‘eleven or more’.” We laughed. “Wow. What was the most you could put?” she asked. “That was it,” I said. It didn’t seem unreasonable at the time, I told her. I’d figured about every three days—eleven times a month. “The nurse reviewed it before it went to the doctor,” I said, chuckling. “She probably thought I was some kind of phenomenon.”

I’d noticed that when the doctor finished reading over my questionnaire that afternoon, he’d stared at me for a while without saying anything. “I wonder if he wanted to ask if ‘eleven or more’ was accurate,” I said. “I guess he couldn’t really ask that.”

I’d also noticed that when were we were leaving the exam room, he’d seemed a little down. “I don’t blame him,” I said. “He’s a lot younger than I am, but he probably comes home from work every day beat and the last thing he’s thinking about is sex. Then he reads my questionnaire and he probably thinks, ‘Jeez. This guy’s 66 and he’s doing it all the time.’”

Actually, that was sort of what bothered me: the last thing I wanted to do was make my doctor feel bad, especially if I was exaggerating.  Why hadn’t I just marked the next highest number, ‘seven to ten’? I didn’t even know if that was accurate, but it was probably closer to reality.

I couldn’t help thinking of a guy I’d seen decades ago at a hotel in Jamaica. He’d entered himself in something like a “best body at the pool” contest. He was probably in his early forties, not in terrible shape, but beefy, balding, with his stomach protruding slightly over his Speedos, surrounded by trim, taut male and female contestants half his age. As soon as the winner was announced (not him), he turned, sprinted toward the pool, and launched himself in with an ostentatious splash, in an obvious bid for attention.

I’m not sure why that guy came to mind, but I have a pretty good idea. I guess I ought to be thankful I’m not a flaming extrovert. Sure, I might harbor a few flattering delusions about myself, but I’m pretty sure they won’t go beyond my wife, my doctor, and a couple of nurses. And if they do, well, at least I know I won’t be parading them around some Caribbean resort in a pair of Speedos.

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