October: Doctor Appointment Month

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I have three separate doctor’s appointments this month. One is with a dentist; one is with my general practitioner; one is with a specialist.

I haven’t been to the dentist in six or seven years. The dentist I’m going to isn’t the one I went to last. The reason for both of those is, at least partially, the dentist I’ve gone to all my life is located at the southern edge of the universe, and the transit services to that location are spotty. I’m going to a brand new dentist. I don’t even know the name yet. I just know that it’s in a building very close to where I work, to avoid relying on unreliable bus schedules.

I’m not anxious about dentists, as many people are. I’ve never had a cavity in my life, so if I have one now I guess I’m way overdue. I’m looking forward to the post-cleaning feeling. I’m looking forward to seeing something other than 20-year-old newspaper comics about dentists cut out and taped to the walls. (Yes, it’s been six or seven years since I saw my last dentist, but I have a vivid photographic memory about his office.) What I’m not looking forward to is having to tell a new dentist things. I’m not looking forward to being asked why I waited so long, or being told I wouldn’t have the minor problems that my teeth occasionally cause if I went to the dentist regularly like a responsible person would. I don’t want to say that sometimes my upper left molars hurt, or I can feel the left incisor moving like my orthodontic work from 1998 is being undone. I’m anxious about being told that it’s a more serious problem than it seems. I’m anxious about being told that it’s no big deal and it isn’t worth bringing up. I’m anxious about the lectures on flossing, or a passing condescending comment about the small gap of eroded enamel on my front tooth. I’m anxious about the parts of dentistry that are a judgment of my character – not about discomfort in my mouth or problems with my teeth.

The appointment with my GP is fairly routine. She’s nice. I don’t have much to report on, so I don’t have much to diagnose. I’m going for that ever-pleasant experience that I don’t need to see a gynecologist for, because why should a basic service that a significant chunk of the population has to get routinely rely on the availability of specialists? A general practice should fall under the scope of general practitioners. I normally breeze through that momentary discomfort, but it’s a number of things can go wrong that makes it awkward beyond the undress and equipment used. There is also the potential scorn for not making this appointment sooner, as I should have. There’s always that risk with routine procedures. Everyone with access to a regular doctor should know that feeling.

With the specialist – when problems within the realm of the specialty arise that aren’t part of why I got referred to begin with, is it appropriate to bring these up? I know the answer to that is obvious, and of course the specialist would rather know too much than too little in case seemingly separate problems are indeed related. It’s a basic part of doctor-patient etiquette, and this specialist is very good at that, to be open to hearing other problems. It’s part of the scientific process of medicine and diagnosis. But, surprise surprise, I’m inclined to worry that what I have to say is unwelcome and I will be judged.

The scary part of Doctor Appointment Month is not the fear of new health problems being detected. It’s the fear of judgment – that I’m living my life wrong, and someone by all measures above me in credentials and accomplishment will wag their finger. Either I shouldn’t have waited this long to see these doctors, or I shouldn’t have bothered to see them at all. In either case, at least I’m getting them all within one month.

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