Starting last week’s work searching for information about how, as seniors, some of us avoid going to the doctor, even when we perhaps need to the most, I stumbled onto the big word latrophobia.
It means fear of doctors. Those so afflicted often have it in childhood and carry it on into adult life. It’s the uncle who hasn’t seen a doctor in 20 years, or who says he did when he didn’t. Or it’s the young neighbor girl who has avoided seeing a dentist to the point of having visibly decayed teeth by age 18. Kids may bolt from the doctor’s office and run and hide. I have a grandson who as a five-year-old locked himself in the bathroom to avoid a therapy trip.
The worst of it can be the person who denies cancer symptoms and avoids seeing the doctor until the cancer stage is advanced and it’s too late.
So you don’t want to have latrophobia, nor do I. We may have little choice, however, because the phobia can be present genetically, then its effects can be exacerbated by doctors and other medical professionals by the nature of their work.
Symptoms of active latrophobia include:
- Muscular tension, trembling, talking incoherently
- Upset stomach
- Repeated postponement of medical appointments
- Dry mouth
Doctors often bring about latrophobia by the dangerous things they have to tell us: “You have pneumonia,” or “This tooth needs a root canal.” Drill, drill! “Is the Novocain working?”
Latrophobia is one of a dozen important phobias. Others include arachnophobia, fear of spiders; ophidiophobia, fear of snakes; claustrophobia, fear of small, tight places, to name a few.
White coat (doctor) hypertension is a form of latrophobia. I once had a nurse refuse to retake my blood pressure until I slowed down. I had rushed to get to our appointment on time.
Usually, however, I’m among the earliest to go the doctor, and it has paid dividends. You don’t want to sit through a telling of my health problems, but I didn’t reach 90 in fairly good physical condition by avoiding the doctor. I’ve had multiple joint replacement surgeries, and abide an ongoing heart condition.
To get to the home of a friend for a Saturday morning brunch meeting recently I called Lyft, the modern-day taxi service. The driver, a Michelle Angerhofer, explained in an interview that one person in her family was referred for examination at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, but did not explain to other family members why. Another family member received a cancer diagnosis but kept it secret.
Augsburg University student Merari Morales, 40, who is studying to become a physician’s assistant and is involved in a mentor/mentee program at Augustana Apartments, said his observation as a medical student is that some people simply don’t want to know about their own health problems, believing that in time the problems will simply go away.
Asked his opinion on senior fear of visiting the doctor, Augustana Apartments resident Ken Murphy feels that men and women err equally on visiting the doctor. He adds, “The reason why people avoid the doctor is fear of the unknown.”
For best results, how frequently should a senior see his/her general practice doctor? “By age 65 a person should have a connection in place, including frequency of visit,” says Dan Hauser, Director of Communications at the 10,000-member Minnesota Medical Association.
“Generally, however we recommend seeing your primary doctor at least once a year,” he adds. “And based on your condition, the doctor will suggest a plan of treatment, including frequency of visiting,” Hauser sums up.
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