When Dr. Sam said, "You've got the prostate of a man half your age," it was hard to keep from beaming. This must be how a woman feels when a complete stranger tells her she has a beautiful baby. Well, maybe not. Still, it was hard not to feel proud of my big, fat, beautiful prostate. It was like winning the Oscar. "I'd like to thank everyone who made this possible — Mom and Dad for their genes, Sue for making me take all those antioxidants and especially all the little supplements."
"Yes, that is one pretty prostate — don't you think so, class?" I heard murmurs of approval, some polite applause. Not beaming anymore. Not beaming at all. Here I am, exposed as person can possibly be, and there's an audience? What was going on?
I was lying on my left side, looking at a wall of medical equipment, blood-pressure cuffs, those flashlights they stick in your ears, boxes of rubber gloves, a gallon plastic container for used needles.
I said, "I didn't know this was a teaching hospital."
"It's not," said Dr. Sam. "It's my son's seventh-grade class from St. Celia's. Say 'hello' to Mr. Mullen, kids."
"Hello, Mr. Mullen," they said in unison.
"You're their show-and-tell this week," he said, as he pulled off his rubber gloves.
"Excuse me, but isn't there a privacy issue here?" I asked Dr. Sam. His real name is Dr Samrajanbapaihudevajunamohanmooty, but he goes by Dr. Sam. He told me once that it means "Smith" in Urdu.
"Certainly there is a privacy issue. It would be very inappropriate for you to know the names of the children. We have to respect their privacy at all costs."
"I was really thinking about my privacy."
"But you signed the blue form. You should really read these things before you go around signing them. You didn't sign the green one, did you? Because that means you've volunteered to donate a kidney to Britney Spears."
"Tell me you're joking."
"Of course, I'm joking. Everyone knows she'll need a new liver long before she needs a new kidney. And stop worrying about the kids. They were watching an exciting video of a colonoscopy. I just told them it was yours. It gets their attention. Trust me, once you've seen one colon, you've seen them all. It's not like they saw you naked or anything. I don't want to scare them away.
"But I don't want these kids to go through life thinking that there's something embarrassing about getting a physical exam. I don't want them to wait 17 years between checkups the way you did. People have got to learn that a physical exam is as natural as breast-feeding a baby on a bus."
"What bus have you been riding?"
"Don't be silly, I drive a Jaguar; it was just a figure of speech. You can put your clothes back on now."
Why bother, I thought. Maybe I'd get more exams if the doctors had to take off their clothes every time they asked me to take off mine. My nude comfort level is very high. I don't even wear shorts in the summer.
Doctors wonder why people wait so long to get their problems fixed. I'll tell them why. I spend half my time at the doctor's office saying, "You want to do what to my what?!?!" and "You're not going to reuse these cups are you?"
But when you think about it, the doctors are going to examine you once you get sick, and it's going to be just as embarrassing then as it is when you're healthy, so you may as well suck up your self-respect and go.
Still, I can hardly wait for the first "do it yourself at home" screening tests for those ultra-personal exams. It'll be something that involves a disposable spork and a cotton swab. Wait five minutes and if it turns green, you go back to work on Monday. If it turns red, you start maxing out your MasterCard.
Jim Mullen is the author of "It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life" and "Baby's First Tattoo." You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org