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Updated 05 April 2013

Truly embarrassing doctors' visits

You have a bad case of oral thrush or genital herpes. The thought of telling your doctor makes you feel even worse. Here's how to do it.

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There are those who believe that you are not truly grown up before you have had an embarrassing condition or disease in a non-English speaking country.

Have you ever tried using sign-language to explain genital herpes or nervous perspiration or halitosis to a baffled-looking middle-aged Italian wearing horn-rimmed glasses? Or maybe a bad case of oral thrush to your GP who has to fill in your insurance medical forms every time you change jobs?

Doctor, how do I say this?
Most people find discussing things sexual with their partners difficult enough. The thought of having to describe your sexual practices, even though they are probably so run-of–the-mill they are boring, to someone else, is enough to make most people come up in hives.

Most people put off visits to the doctor about their smelly armpits or acne on their buttocks, especially if they have had a long acquaintance with the doctor and the person is beginning to feel more like a friend to them. But then, friends don’t usually tell us to take our clothes off, unless they are interested in becoming more than a friend. Maintain a professional distance – it makes things easier for both of you.

Then, of course there are those who will travel 40 km to another district in order to see a doctor they are never going to encounter in the supermarket, or at a dinner party, or at their kids' PTA meeting. There is always the option of a false name and settling the account in cash. Or having two doctors – one for embarrassing diseases, and one for insurance medicals? But there are easier ways.

Hints on dealing with your embarrassment at the GP

  • Choose someone who is the same sex as you are and more or less the same age.
  • Keep in mind that they see naked, and sometimes extremely unattractive, people all day.
  • This is their job. Doctors do not see their surgeries as dating agencies. If they do, they could lose their jobs.
  • If you have gonorrhoea, you are probably the third case of the day and the fourteenth this week. In a fortnight they will most probably have forgotten who you are, and confuse you with the teacher who is suffering from anaemia.
  • Wear the kind of underwear that would have been acceptable swimwear forty years ago.
  • You do not have to tell the receptionist that you have a boil on your bottom. Be firm, even if she asks.
  • Remember that the doctor is bound to an oath of secrecy. He/she may not discuss your condition with anyone.
  • Take a friend with you. A benevolent presence in the waiting room can do a lot towards making the visit less traumatic.
  • Go first thing in the morning, otherwise you have the whole day to “obsess” about the prospect.
  • Organise a pleasant event straight afterwards, so you have something to look forward to.
  • Be honest. Don’t lie about what your symptoms are or what you have been doing. Otherwise you might as well not have gone.
  • Tell the doctor immediately that you are embarrassed and what is wrong with you.
  • If the doctor feels you deserve a little lecture, chances are that you do. Smile, nod and sit through it. This too shall pass.

(Susan Erasmus, Health24, updated July 2012)

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