The lyrics to Steve Miller Band’s “Jet Airliner” note that “you got to go through hell before you get to heaven.” While I disagree that this is the path to get to heaven, I can say that you may have to suffer hell in order to get and stay healthy. Yes, taking care of oneself medically often involves some type of torture.
Instruments of torture such as the rack and the dunking stool are no longer in common use. Nevertheless, we have medical instruments which have taken their place in modern times. And if being tortured by these instruments isn’t bad enough, we are forced to pay their wielder for the privilege of being tortured. So much for progress!
One of the most common instruments of torture is small and seemingly innocuous. I give you the tongue depressor–standard size 6″ x 11/16″. The fact that this medical instrument is also know as the “tongue blade” may make you see this small item in a different light.
The tongue depressor is a tool use to push down (“depress”) the tongue to allow for examination of the mouth and throat. I don’t know about any resulting examination of these body parts occurring, but I can tell you that the tongue depressor’s use is always successful in triggering my gag reflex. And asking me to say “Ahhh!” when the tongue depressor is inserted hardly distracts me from the resulting discomfort.
And have you ever stopped to consider what a tongue depressor is made of? Usually tongue depressors are made of wood. And what’s a hazard from wood? SPLINTERS! One medical supply website I viewed boasts that its tongue depressors are polished for “splinter-free comfort.” What? Now I have to worry about gagging AND the possibility of splinters? But on the bright side, if your instrument of torture is made from northern Maine white birch, it is naturally biodegradable.
Better yet, your torturer–er, medical professional–can choose from sterile and non-sterile varieties of tongue depressors. Say what? Why on earth would any medical professional in his right mind (or at least trying to avoid a medical malpractice claim) utilize a NON-STERILE tongue depressor?
On a positive note, the concerned tongue depressor manufacturers do want patients subjected to its use to enjoy the procedure as much as possible. Accordingly, they offer these instruments of torture in cherry and grape flavors. If it’s going to make me gag, I don’t really care what it tastes like beforehand–just sayin’.
And the tongue depressor can multitask. Your doctor can stick it in your mouth and then use it to test your neurological responses. Just break that sucker in half and VOILA! A sharp stimulus is available.
Also in a medical professional instrument of torture repertoire is the speculum (Latin for “mirror’)..This tool is used to open or distend body orifices or cavities to permit visual inspection. Think pelvic exam and Pap smear.
A speculum has two-hinged parts that looks like a duck’s bill. Originally this tool was made of stainless steel. And we all know how cold metal can feel to the touch. How many times have you heard your considerate doctor warn you, “This will be a little cold.” If you know it’s gonna be cold, why not warm the thing up a bit before inserting it? Speculums can now be purchased in plastic for one time use. Hmmph! Probably not biodegradable like the birch tongue depressors. Comfort is not mentioned in any description of this medical supply….
A fairly sophisticated medical instrument of torture is the mammogram machine. Since breast cancer is the most prevalent form of cancer in woman, if you are a woman, at some point you will be directed to undergo torture–er, a procedure–with this machine.
A mammogram is a low dose X-ray of the breast. One medical website I checked stated that the procedure “can be painful.” This statement is the understatement of the year. The machine is equipped with parallel plates that compress, i.e., flatten, the breast to enhance the screening. OUCH! There is no doubt that this procedure involves pain. Why can we put a man on the moon but we can’t come up with a less painful way to X-ray a woman’s breast?
And last but not least is the good old needle. Needles can be found at the end of a syringe or as an essential piece of an IV. Just the sight of a needle can frighten even the biggest and baddest of us. While taking my daughter for a shot at the immunization clinic on an Air Force base, I witnessed a tall (over 6′) athletic looking airman crash to the ground when the nurse pulled out a syringe to administer a shot to him. Perhaps we could save a bunch on the defense budget if we just had our military brandish syringes at the enemy rather than guns.
With needles comes the inevitable comment, “You’ll just feel a little prick” or “This may sting a bit.” Let’s have some truth in advertising here. Just go ahead and say, “This is gonna hurt, so prepare yourself.” It wasn’t the one stick that got to me when I was in labor with my first child. The medical staff determined I needed an IV in my hand. As if it were not bad enough that I was in labor, I was also being turned into a pin cushion by the nursing staff who couldn’t seem to get the needle into my vein. (And I’m going to trust this crew to delivery my baby????) Finally, in desperation, they called down to the ER to have someone come up and give it a go.
It’s a trade off. If you want to be healthy, then you have to be willing to undergo some medical instrument hell. Diagnostic procedures are a critical part of medical care. As they say, if you have your health, then you have everything. And part of that everything is experience with medical instruments of torture.
JUST WONDER-ing: Do you avoid going to the doctor because of anticipated discomfort or pain from the use of medical instruments? What medical instrument of torture do you detest the most?