Dads, let’s admit it: Most of us hate going to the doctor. In fact, parenting and self-care are often at odds.
This is especially true in the chaotic early years when all parents struggle to find time to use the bathroom in peace much less exercise, see friends, maintain hobbies, and visit the doctor. Mothers in our culture are frequently reminded to practice self-care, but I’m here to urge increasingly involved fathers to do the same. Though dads tend to feel less guilty than moms about taking time for themselves, one particular area of self-care we need to improve on is seeing a doctor.
A 2016 Cleveland Clinic survey found only three in five men, ages 18 to 70, get an annual physical, and a little more than 40 percent go to the doctor only when they fear they have a serious medical condition. Those are some frightening numbers.
I can speak to the stereotype of men avoiding doctors from personal experience. Several years ago, I told my wife half-jokingly: “I’m either in the best shape of my life, or I’m dying.” I had finally been working out again, and I was excited to be losing weight. Freshly 40, I had spent nine long years as a stay-at-home dad, so it was thrilling to return to some “me” time.
But then I kept losing weight.
The self-care stumble
Over three months I lost 15 pounds, so I started to worry. Also, I began to notice frequent stomach aches, often followed by diarrhea. Admittedly, as a guy who hated going to the doctor, it probably took me longer than the average human to notice these rather dramatic changes.
Then came the kicker.
I was in the yard and bent over to pick up a rake. On my way up, I got dizzy and nearly fell over. Finally, I knew this was more than just “how 40 feels.”
So I saw a gastroenterologist who performed a blood test and biopsy before pronouncing the verdict: celiac disease. His nutritionist explained celiac disease is a genetic intolerance of gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and other related grains. Gluten damages the villi in a celiac’s small intestines, which leads to malnourishment and a variety of symptoms — e.g. diarrhea, weight loss, fatigue, migraines and depression among others. Symptoms can appear anytime during a celiac’s life.
What I remember most was the nutritionist’s statement, “It’s not that bad. Just avoid things like beer, bread and pasta.”
What? For an Irish boy married to an Italian girl, she just eliminated 80% of my diet! Immediately, I visualized an atlas of my past culinary pleasures I would never be able to revisit: the Buffalo chicken wing, the Philadelphia cheese steak, the Chicago deep-dish pizza.
Many with celiac disease never get diagnosed
But after researching the disease and the growing dietary options, I realized I was lucky this was my only problem. My good fortune was soon reinforced in a health food store (my new hangout). When I mentioned I had just been diagnosed with celiac disease, an acquaintance asked, “Oh, does your whole life make sense to you now?”
I nearly got dizzy and fell over. What? No, I thought. Now my life makes no sense. My whole life was going just fine!
But I learned she knew people whose lifelong health problems were cured after they were diagnosed with celiac disease. So then I felt grateful for 40 years of reveling in gluten. (Specifically, no beer in college would have been tough to swallow.) So if any unexplained symptoms apply to you, consider asking your doctor about celiac disease since many people go undiagnosed.
Now that I’m gluten-free, I’ve regained a few pounds and feel healthy. It’s also nice to fit back into my pre-stay-at-home dad clothes. However, you know you’ve been a stay-at-home dad too long when you put on a button-down shirt and your daughter asks, “Dad, why are you dressed all fancy?”
After my health scare, I consider such a moment a little reward for going to the doctor.