By Jody Hanson
My 50th birthday decision was to stop having medical tests: no annual check-ups, no pap smears, no mammograms. Grant, a friend who is a doctor, rushed over to have a serious talk with me. By the end of our discussion, however, he was agreeing with me. Not quite as adamantly as the Australian doctor who caused an outrage by having “Do not resuscitate” tattooed on his chest, perhaps, but concurring in principle.
Perhaps my aversion to things medical was inherited. Three weeks after I was born, my 20-year old mother took me to see the doctor because I was covered in red spots. He told her to poke the spots twice a day and to swab them with alcohol. My mother took me home and tied my hands in mitts so I couldn’t scratch. It was chickenpox.
That I don’t remember, but the pap smear 44 years later still haunts me. The results came back “abnormal” and the doctor wanted to schedule a DNC. I declined and consulted a homeopath who gave me a list of things to eat. Three months later the results were “slightly abnormal” and, again, the doctor was adamant that treatment needed to be started immediately. Another rain check. On the third test, the results were “normal” and stayed that way until I quit having tests six years later.
When I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in December 1997 the surgeon insisted on a colonoscopy. I headed to the library, did the research and announced that the risks out weighted the benefits. And, consequently, I ended up with a “hostile patient” letter on my medical file. Despite all medical literature to the contrary, I remained convinced that the condition was directly related to stress. So I resigned from the university, threw away the medication and the hideous attacks mysteriously disappeared. Now it is just a vague distant memory of the time my research into the sex industry ended up as the cover story of “The Listener” in New Zealand. I couldn’t leave the house to buy a copy, because it was dangerous to stray far from the toilet.
The last time I visited a doctor because I was sick was the colonoscopy incident. Okay, so I was fortunate to pick the right parents and to come from healthy peasant stock. As kids, we weren’t allowed to stay home from school unless we were really sick so I learned to view illness as a personal affront, a proverbial insult.
In Sydney – I had turned 50 by then — every six months, I trotted off to see friend-first-doctor-second Linda. When she opened a file for me she wrote – in large letters – “Patient refuses all tests.” Our arrangement was the last appointment on Friday evening. When I’d walk in she’d say “Okay, so what drugs do you want?” and I’d reply “Livial” and possibly 10 diazepam or sleeping pills if I was travelling (being a strong believer in knocking myself out to avoid jet-lag). She’d roll her eyes, print the scripts and we’d go out for a drink. Ever since I moved to Morocco in 2009, I have been able to buy what I want over the counter, so having to visit a doctor to get a prescription ceased to be a problem.
Other contributing factors to my health are that I “forgot” to get married, have children or save any money. Consequently, I now live in Phnom Penh, work as a freelance writer/editor and take responsibility for my lifestyle. I do what can reasonably be done health wise: Eat fresh food; walk everywhere; do regular stretching exercises; drink enough wine and Scotch to kill all known and unknown germs. And when juxtaposed with people in the occidental world, I have a relatively low-stress life. Except, that is, for the financial panic attacks caused because I forgot to save any money.
At 60 I’m in better health than at 20 when I was getting kidney infections, bronchitis and other heinous illnesses because I didn’t look after myself properly. I’m suspicious of the “lets keep testing until we find something wrong with you” approach. So, if I wake up tomorrow with terminal cancer of the toenail that could have been diagnosed if I’d had regular medical check-ups there is only one person to blame: Me. I demand to accept the responsibility for my decisions. And I refuse to be a medical guinea pig.
Jody Hanson is an insufferable travel junkie who currently lives in Cambodia. To date she has visited 107 countries, lived in eight and holds passports in three. Her – some would say irresponsible – retirement plan is to keep going until she drops. At that time she wants a Muslim burial: wash the body, wrap it in a white sheet and plant it by sundown. In the meantime, Hanson continues to have more than her share of adventures and misadventures, both of which she embraces equally.