Bloke on a rope
'According to the experts - those men in white coats who have replaced men of white cloth - a man's life is one long rollercoaster ride of disease, disorder and death.'
The yoghurt-drinking, muesli-eating, NHS-direct-using British government wants young men to be more open about our health. So I’m going to kickstart its campaign with a confession.
I haven’t been to a doctor for 14 months (blood in my urine? Must be that cherryade I had for lunch). I haven’t visited a dentist in four years (fruit gums extract dodgy molars better than most Harley Street crooks). And I haven’t seen an optician since 1996 – literally haven’t seen one, what with blurred vision that rivals the effects of drunkenness.
But I can’t help it – I’m a bloke. And we don’t do doctors and dentists. Sometimes we do nurses…. But the rest of the medical profession can just forget it.
Thank God for New Labour. On 7 March 2001, the government unveiled its action plan to redress the ‘health imbalances’ between men and women – like the ‘shocking statistic’ that 60 percent of visits to GPs are made by women and only 40 percent by men (1). Why? It’s simple: we blokes are too arrogant and cocksure to admit that we’re ill, which itself is a form of illness, and has the ironic effect of making us ill – but because we’re too arrogant and cocksure to admit that we’re ill, we get more ill and more ill, and then we croak. It’s a vicious cycle thing.
According to the experts – those men in white coats who have replaced men of white cloth – a man’s life is one long rollercoaster ride of disease, disorder and death. And it starts early. ‘The male embryo is more vulnerable than the female – from this point on, it is downhill all the way’, says a report in the British Medical Journal (2). And if you make it through the turmoil of your mother’s womb, there are still those chilling childhood years to contend with: ‘Developmental disorders occur three to four times more often in boys than in girls’ (3).
Then comes the hell of teenagedom, when the angst-ridden refrain ‘I wish I were dead!!’ is sometimes granted – as the Department of Health and Happiness reminds us, some teenage boys succumb to testicular cancer or suicide (4). And don’t try to get away from it all by downing a stiff one at the pub – ‘One in eight deaths among young men is related to drink’ (5); or by going to watch the beautiful game – ‘the combination of various unhealthy factors that occur at a critical football match may provoke a sufficient level of stress to trigger a heart attack’ (6); or by growing old – ‘Later in life, the process continues unabated.….’ (7)
See? From the moment we set sail from our dad’s bags to the instant we’re zipped up in a body bag, men are walking, talking, smirking, shirking health disaster zones. It’s enough to make you sick as a parrot.
I know what you’re thinking: I’m young, I’m male, I’m as fit as a fiddle (though I’m shaped like a cello) – why should I fret? And yes it’s true that the number of 15- to 24-year-old men who died of testicular cancer in England and Wales in 1999 can be counted on one hand (it was three). That the number of 25- to 34-year-old men who died of testicular cancer can be counted on three hands (it was 14). That you’re still more likely to be bored to death at a football match than killed by an over-excited heart.
But you’re missing the point. At least the men’s health industry reminds us lads that we’re not invincible (even if we pretty much are) – that for all our youthful flair, ambition and zest, there is a slim, remote, minute possibility that we could be struck down at any moment by some mystery illness or disorder. Someone’s got to keep us in our place, and it might as well be the profession that’s got us by the balls.
So lads, if you have any of the following symptoms – lack of nausea, general feeling of confidence, clear-headedness, self-reliance, strength, ability to absorb large quantities of alcohol – seek urgent medical attention. You could be suffering from an extreme case of Healthy Young Man Syndrome.
Brendan O’Neill is coordinating the spiked-conference Panic attack: Interrogating our obsession with risk, on Friday 9 May 2003, at the Royal Institution in London.
(1) See ‘Drive to improve British men’s health’, Independent on Sunday, 4 March 2001
(2) See Sebastian Kraemer, ‘The fragile male’, British Medical Journal (BMJ), 23-30 December 2000
(3) BMJ, 23-30 December 2000
(4) See Observer, 4 March 2001
(5) See Guardian, 19 February 2001
(6) GQ magazine, April 2001
(7) BMJ, 23-30 December 2001
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