African American men can make up a smorgasbord of excuses for not going to the doctor’s office – myself included. Researchers have capitalized on this defect and have deemed it yet another thing that the African American man has failed to do. Here are some of our greatest hits: 1.) I’m to busy to go. 2.) If I don’t feel better, I’ll go tomorrow. 3.) If I go, they’ll find something wrong. 4.) I’ll be fine once I put some ice on it.
Some of us would rather consult with their auto mechanic before going to the doctor’s office. “Hey Willie, after you rotate the tires and change my oil, can you take a look at my right pinky toe? It’s turning purple and it smells awful.”
Although I just made a joke about this issue, the reality is that historically African American men die at an average of seven years earlier than men in other ethnic groups. In addition, African American men are more likely to suffer from an undiagnosed chronic illness.
Last year the University of Michigan did a study in which they conducted 14 focus groups with urban middle-aged African American men. The goal was to find out why these men refuse to go to the doctor. Here are some of the reasons why: 1.) African American men state that going to the doctor’s office can be a stressful experience. 2.) African American men state that doctors are not sensitive to their behavioral needs. Their claim is that doctors tell them about their undesired behaviors without coming up with some creative ways in which to stop these behaviors. 3.) If they are diagnosed with an illness, they feel as though they are less of a man. 4.) There is too much emphasis on the things that African American men don’t do instead of exploring why they don’t do them. 5.) African American men dislike the tone that the physicians used with them.
The findings from the focus groups indicate that physicians need to offer practical information, resources and support to help these men adhere to medication regimens and make lifestyle changes within the context of their other responsibilities to their families and their community. The findings also suggest that understanding these needs may increase men’s willingness to go to the doctor.
In addition to these recommendations, we as African American men need to suck-it-up and go to the doctor’s office. For those of us who are extremely stressed out about seeing a doctor, I would suggest sharing this information with a loved one – someone that can go with you as an advocate. This will alleviate your stress, help you to get your questions answered and help you to build a rapport with the doctors and nurses. We must also remember that doctors and nurses can be reported. You have a right to file a complaint if your needs are not met. First you should start with the hospital’s patient complaint coordinator. Second, you can call a representative from your health plan. Health plans want you to be happy with the care that you receive under their plan. If you are not satisfied with these results, I would contact The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations. If the complaint raises concerns about a continuing threat to patient safety or if it suggests a failure to comply with Joint Commission standards, they may conduct an unannounced or unscheduled on-site evaluation of the organization.
As for the issue of feeling like less of a man, if you don’t go and see the doctor, you will be less of a man. You will be dead! I once heard an older gentleman say that he’d be damned to let some doctor perform a colonoscopy on him. He said that he had been screwed by people all of his life, and that there was no way that he was going to give anyone permission to screw him again. This man that I am talking about is now dead. We must keep in mind that this is not an issue where we need to show how witty or savvy we are.
We, as Black men, need to see the doctor for the diseases and ailments that affect us historically. So for example, if you are an African American man age 40 and above, get screened for colon cancer. I will be the first to admit, this screening can be a daunting task to undertake, but it is one that we as African American men need to do. So just do it! Stop feeling as though you are going to walk into the doctor’s office looking and feeling like Denzel Washington, and then leave the doctor’s office looking and feeling like Little Richard. This is ridiculous. Every year all of us owe it to our loved ones and to ourselves to get a physical and try our best to live a lifestyle that will keep us around a bit longer. With that said I’ll make a deal with you. You make your appointment to see the doctor, and I’ll make mine too.
David Asbery is a doctorate student at St John Fisher College. For more information visit him at www.davidleeshow.net. Also David’s new book, My Wife, My Kids, My God is available now at www.Amazon.com and www.bn.com.
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