I aspire to be — or to at least appear to be — the kind of nonjudgmental doctor that patients can tell anything to, and from the kinds of hair-raising things I've been told, I'd thought I was succeeding. But I recently discovered that there's a very common concern that none of my patients have ever asked me about.
When I took my current job, I took over for the only male doctor in the practice. He had collected a patient panel that included a lot more male patients than the other doctors, which I was glad about, because I really enjoy seeing men. Not that I don't like seeing women, but women tend to go to the doctor more often than men do, and it can get a tad boring.
I had to work at gaining the trust of some of these men, and more than once a patient would halt in the middle of telling me his story and say, "It's a little strange to be telling this to a lady doctor ..." which was my cue to bring up the topic of impotence (or ED — erectile dysfunction, the euphemism du jour). Heck, I'd ask about it even if they didn't seem like they had something they were getting flustered about. (My favorite answer of all time: "Well, yes, doctor, I have been having some trouble with my, you know, with my — direction." Which was actually true — he wanted the direction to be up instead down.)
But recently a man joined our practice, and I noticed that several of my male patients started showing up on his schedule. I wasn't shocked; I knew that these patients had always wanted a male doctor. But I was a little disappointed that I hadn't been able to keep them, given my simply breathtaking skills at patient rapport.
The other day I mentioned to my new partner that he was leaching all the testosterone out of my patient roster. "Well, you know there are things that men just won't tell a woman doctor," he said.
"No, they ask me for V*agra all the time," I said.
"Oh, not about that," he said. "There's something that I bet no male patient has ever asked you about, yet it's one of the most common concerns men come to me with."
"I doubt it," I said. "Try me."
"That their p*nises are too small."*
And I had to admit that he had me there. Though I have heard many, many penile concerns, that has never been one of them.
This has left my doctoring self-esteem a tad shaken. How could I have been missing this major thing? One of my favorite parts about being a doctor is being able to reassure people. And here all these guys have left my office feeling, well, inadequate, and unable to tell me about it. I mean, I knew that men worry about this, but I didn't realize that so many of them think it's enough of a problem that they should see a doctor about it.
And I'm not sure I'll be able to include it in my review of systems. "Do you have any constipation? Diarrhea? How's your urination? Any problems with erections? And — how about your johnson? Feeling cheated? Under-peckered? Got a wiener instead of a brat?" At least my partner told me what to say if I ever do get this complaint: "Too small compared to what? You've been watching porn, right? Well, you need to remember that those guys are in the top 1 to 2 percent of the population. The other 98 percent look about like you do."
Which is not at all what women are taught to say in private life ...
*Trying not to attract too many folks who will be very disappointed if they find me popping up in their Google searches.