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With melanoma in my family history and moles all over my face, arms, chest and legs, I should visit the dermatologist more than, well, never. So I finally call my primary doctor to get a referral on my health plan. I figure, for the 1% chance I have skin cancer, I might as well have treatment 80% covered.

His office gives me two choices in Manhattan where I live — Dr K., a guy on East 64th Street and Dr. B., a woman on East 71st. Normally, I make choices based on convenience, but once you’re in a $25 taxi cab commitment, 10 blocks north or south doesn’t matter. I chose Dr B., the woman doctor, for two big reasons: First, I already have five male doctors (primary, dentist, eye, ENT, gastro) and I am a fierce modern feminist fighting for egalitarianism at every possible juncture including caucasian male-dominated healthcare; Secondly, this is skincare, and women know a heckuva lot more about being pretty.

At Dr B.’s plain but friendly office, an assistant quickly shows me into an exam room. She says I can “get ready for the doctor,” and she’ll be right in. I don’t know what to expect or what “get ready” means. My brother also has moles, and when he visited a dermatologist only a few blocks from here, the doctor offered him a photo shoot to benchmark their growth. Like most straight men, my brother is far more vain than he lets on, so he said yes and spent two hours having nudie photos taken of him and his entire body. Taking off my own clothes, I wonder where my brother’s photos are now. On CD-ROMs? On Flickr? What did his wife think? Some women think it’s kinda hot, and maybe they keep them in their bedroom drawer. What if they get out on the Web? Should I do it for my partner Bryan? He’s into healthcare, but not like that. If so, I totally should have gone to the gym before this appointment. I wonder if Aetna covers a re-shoot.

Facing the door, I sit naked on the paper on the exam table. Before long, there’s a quiet knock and Dr. B. enters in with another woman also wearing a white coat. Now it’s two women fully dressed and me, utterly naked. (Very CFNM if you’ve ever heard of that sortof thing). “Oh, okay,” Dr B. says, composing herself.

“Does this mean you want a full body scan?”

Wait, was I not supposed to be naked? With my hands, I partially cover myself.  I awkwardly pull on my underpants and let her examine me. “My moles are mostly above the waist,” I say, changing the topic to Justin Bieber and how he’s the new spokesperson for Proactiv acne treatment. The assistant’s face is towards the computer but I hear her giggle.

Moving from mole to mole, she comments with a few notes and reassures with her gloved hands. “Nope, good” or “Okay, that’s evenly dark.” Every now and then, she pulls out a cute little ruler and holds it up to the mole to measure its width. To the assistant, she rattles off its dimensions and color to write it down for later.  “We’ll keep a watch on them,” she explains. “You should come back every year. Wear sunscreen.”

She seems finished and nods approvingly for me and the assistant. “Any questions for me?” she offers.

“Oh there are no photos?” I ask, thinking of my brother’s experience.

Dr. B. looks at me funny, like I am some kind of perve. “Do you… want me to take photos of you?”

“No, my brother…” I start, but wave my hands as if I’m my own crazy person. “Thank you so much.”

In all, I was in the exam room for 10 minutes. The copayment was $35.00. And so far, I don’t have skin cancer. In the cab on the way back to my office on the West Side, I am less confused by the amount of time versus expense than about what the rules are for getting naked for the doctor. Why do I feel unsatisfied? Did I want melanoma? Did I want a full body scan? Does that constitute a real visit for my $35.00?

A different type of doctor visit. Last year, my assistant Emily got me to try homeopathy to help treat my food allergies. I went to her Dr. M. on East 85th Street (Except for the shrinks downtown, all the good doctors are on the East Side) and when he entered the room, he had me put my shirt BACK on before I laid down on the exam table. Dr. M. even looked away until I had it on, making me feel like he was a puritan —or I was hideous. In fact, this guy barely touched me the entire visit, only holding my arm up and down, letting it drop, feeling my pulse, and rubbing a series of blocks against my head for an hour. I don’t know much about homeopathy, but as both an experienced homo and homo-sapien, I can tell you that if you have “Doctor” in your name, it’s okay to touch me anywhere on my body.

Still, even without my shoes off, Dr. M. was able to diagnose me as having “Candida,” a yeast imbalance. He said, I should limit my wine intake to one glass a day, completely stay off sugar, buy certain vitamins (from his office of course), and I would discover more energy as well. But even as I read the pamphlet about candida which promised a lot of benefits if managed, I remember thinking: you have the chutzpah to tell me give up ice cream but you don’t want to see my penis?

The cure calls. Fortunately, a godsend appeared within days via voicemail — a reminder to have my annual checkup with my primary physician. I scheduled it right away and arrived early. I’ve been going to Dr. R. for 10 years and we quickly caught up on niceties and my abysmal workout regularity (“Mat, if you would do cardio just once more a week that’d be a 200% improvement for your heart.”). Things got more interesting when Dr. R. finished checking my eye, ear and nose. He was only halfway through saying “Now it’s time for…” when I stood up, dropped my underpants and crawled up on the exam table. I could sense him shrug and pull on the plastic glove.  Like music to a familiar concerto, I then heard exactly what I missed from Dr. B.:  “Now Mat, just pull your knees as close as you can to your chest.” And I waited for my prostate check.

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Mat Zucker MAT ZUCKER is chief creative officer of a big ad agency in New York City, but more importantly is a small time writer of memoirs, essays and fiction on the side. He has published in The New York Press, Our Town, The West Side Spirit and nthWord and is currently the advertising correspondent for The Faster Times. Cornell graduated Mat with a B.A. in English/Creative Writing. One vaguely interesting thing about Mat is his Oral Allergy Syndrome, which prevents him from eating apples, pears, peaches, plums, berries, carrots, cucumbers, celery, nuts, snow peas, tomatoes and red wine — though gratefully not white. He lives in Manhattan with his partner Bryan and their dog Ezra Pound and tweets regularly. He is from Springfield, New Jersey, but you're sure to hear plenty about that.

8 Responses to “When Should We Get Naked?”

  1. James D. Irwin says:

    I never, ever want to go to a doctors now.

    Potentially dying of cancer is a small price to pay for avoiding that amount of social awkwardness.

  2. Aaron Dietz says:

    This is a much appreciated honest coverage of this socially estranging predicament–thank you! I never know when to get naked. I’m pretty sure it’s okay if I’m alone in my own home, but other than that–well, I just have to guess. Presumably, not at work–ever! I’ve got that down, at least.

  3. Here’s a tip you learn via regular trips to the ‘girlie’ doctor; if they want you to strip they’ll generally give you a gown so you have some modesty. Of course now they give you a two-piece paper clothing-substitute, which are absolutely no substitute for clothing. Apparently it was just too much work to drop the gown to do breast exams and raise it for the even less pleasant part of the visit.

    I’m staring to wish they’d just you a nice flat sheet, because almost anyone looks ok wrapped in a sheet.

  4. Marni Grossman says:

    Interesting choice, picking the female doctor. Generally, if I’m going to get naked, I pick a doctor of my own sex. That way, nothing she hasn’t seen before, you know?

  5. Texas Tom says:

    Come on Marni, he’s a metrosexual rationalizing his hormonal drive. He could have picked a female dentist but no he rationalized it this way….

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  8. Gary says:

    Matt,
    I had a skin check (#2) done last year. I went to the office, and I was told to strip down to my underwear and hold a drape over my waist. For me it is more embarrassing to pull the underwear down. So I just held the drape over my waist. The Derm, doc wanted to check my scrotum, as I had two cysts there. I dropped the drape and lifted the scrotum to reveal two cysts. While there she removed the cysts. Ouch. She was a kind MD.and very professional. I have been in the medical field for 40 years, so none of this bothers me. I just want it over after a good exam is done.

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