In this issue, part two of Lorrie Klosterman’s report on men’s wellness. One of the main issues Lorrie found facing men is our simple unwillingness to seek treatment. As Lorrie writes in her piece: “Men admit, and their doctors concur, that they tend to deflect awareness and action when it comes to physical problems.” This has everything to do with our social training to be men—stoic, self-sufficient, impervious to physical pain. Getting medical help can seem like asking for directions to us. We’re stubborn. We want to figure it out for ourselves, we do not want to cede control to some external authority figure.
Sometimes, however, it can’t be avoided. Sometimes enlightenment finds us whether we want it to or not.
Like, say, if you snap one of the bones in your arm while competing in a sporting event outside Albany. You know you’ve broken your arm because you heard the crack! as your forearm struck the other guy’s shin. (The doctor will tell you it’s commonly referred to as a “nightstick fracture” because its most often sustained by people protecting themselves from overhead trauma with the exposed underside of their arm.) You grimace your way off the field, and deny the ministrations of those around you. No ice, no bandages, no ibuprofen. You’ll be fine. You’re going to gut it out. It’s not even that painful really. Just that your arm is swelling up and your wrist is tilted at a jaunty angle. You just need to get away from all these people and figure out what to do.
You decide not to inconvenience anyone else. You’ll drive yourself to the hospital back in Kingston, an hour away. So you drive your standard transmission automobile—a man’s car requires stick shifting—which you pilot with your knee as you switch gears with your left hand, reaching across your body as your right arm lies limp on the console. Aside from a slightly drunken-seeming two-lane turning style, you don’t drive half bad for a guy with a broken arm. You listen to the radio and tell your wife that she doesn’t have to come to the emergency room. She insists.
By the time you get to the hospital, you’ve had about enough of the mounting dull throbbing pain in your arm. You think of Aron Ralston, the climber whose arm was trapped under a boulder, who had to amputate his own limb to survive. No way you could do that. Your arm is really starting to hurt. Painkillers are foremost in your mind during the short wait before you’re triaged.
Within minutes you’re on the X-ray table and when that’s done an angel shows up—not your wife, she’s already there—with a glass of water and a tablet of Percoset. This is the kind of help you needed. A bottle of these and you could probably drive back to Albany and finish the game. Your teammates would treat you like a conquering hero.
Of course, all splinted and bandaged up as you are, you can’t put your shirt back on very easily. Or tie your shoes. Or cut up your food. Or bathe effectively. You can’t even type but with two fingers on your left hand. Six to eight weeks of relying on others, relinquishing direct control.
You realize that perhaps the path of the new machismo, as the doctors Lorrie talks to in her piece suggest, is an acknowledgement that accepting assistance from others is not a denial of manliness. It is simply the fact of our interconnectedness, it’s just how we need to relate for survival. Sometimes a guy has to break his arm to find that out.