About five years ago work gave up on me – as in, my position was no longer required and I was offered the chance to seek alternative opportunities elsewhere. Work wasn’t the only thing giving up on me. In my last year at work, I thought I detected what might best be described as “a dropping off in urinary pressure”. I could no longer take part in youthful games trying to pee on the top bar of a 5-bar gate and expect to succeed. Actually, the fourth bar was pretty much out of reach, too. Not wishing to be paranoid – I was only 52, for Darwin’s sake – I eventually trotted along to our GP surgery to ask for a PSA level check.
Receptionist: “You can’t just have a blood test for your PSA level unless you have certain symptoms.”
You’ll notice that no clues were offered as to the nature of the certain symptoms. She wasn’t about to give me any help – I had to be medically savvy enough to know already.
Me: “¿Que? OK, well I do have certain symptoms so please make me an appointment with the doctor to discuss them.”
What a contrast my experience was to the way ladies are treated by our medical system. Ladies are given appointments for mammograms to screen for breast cancer every two years. Depending on the postcode lottery, ladies are also given cervical smear tests to check for cervical cancer every three to five years. [Ed: Experts have apparently recommended that smear tests be carried out every 3 years.] Does a woman have to detect a scary lump in her breast herself? No, she is given help. No certain symptoms are required.
In my case the demeanour of our surgery’s receptionist appeared decidedly chilly and felt designed to keep me away. I must confess that, during one of my discussions with my doctor, he told me that not even male doctors schedule themselves for PSA checks “because it isn’t a particularly reliable test”. That’s as maybe but in my opinion it’s the best we have. There is, of course, the so-called “digital exam” – the doctor’s finger up one’s bum rummaging around to check for any enlargement of or abnormal feel to ones prostate. However, my hospital consultant seemed quite disparaging about a GP’s expertise at carrying out that test:
Me: “My GP couldn’t feel anything abnormal about my prostate.”
Consultant: “He’s just a GP and I’ve felt thousands more prostates than him.”
or words to that effect, as near as I can remember.