I was sitting in a defenceless position and feeling completely vulnerable. I was nervously gripping the handles of the chair with stiff and sweating hands, as I anxiously arched my back and stiffened my neck in anticipation of mind-shattering physical hurt.
I closed my eyes momentarily in an attempt to zone out and mentally prepare for the horror, and when I opened my eyes again I saw him moving towards me holding a massive and threatening weapon with a long, sharp and shiny point. I wanted to scream, but my ever-present pride reminded me that I'm an adult male and screaming would not be cool. So I recoiled and whispered a soft prayer.
The above description is rather dramatic, isn't it? And it sounds like somebody in a hostage situation involving torture, right? Well it was nothing of the sort. That was actually just me getting some much needed dental attention earlier this week.
The threatening looking 'weapon' was really a harmless little thing called a periodontal probe and when I was about to leap out of my skin, I was gently advised to relax because the dentist done use the thing already, and not only am I still alive, I didn't really feel any pain. But fear is a hell of a thing.
Yes friends, recent moments spent in dentists' chairs have reminded me how fearful I am of doctors generally and dentists especially. Clinics and hospitals are fearsome places. Every piece of equipment seems threatening, and little needle looks like a potential source of excruciating pain. No matter how convincingly I argue with myself, or how badly I curse myself or how gently I try to coax myself, it takes great effort to drag myself to the doctor even for a simple routine check-up. Is that a typical 'man thing'? I don't know.
Anecdotal evidence does seem to suggest that men commonly resist dealing with health issues. And the most common explanation seems to be the suggestion that we're so big, tough and macho, and we strongly internalise a sense of masculine invincibility that prevents us from accepting that we're also susceptible to illnesses. Well, I could pretend that that's my situation but I'll just openly admit the truth: I'm just scared. I'm scared of being probed, poked and prodded. I am afraid of being inspected and injected. And I'm fearful of finding out that I may be sicker than I think I am. Yeah, I know that it's not really manly to admit it, but this man is just afraid!
Someone once told me that fear usually walks hand-in-hand with ignorance, so I've tried to clothe myself with the armour of knowledge. But still, fear persists. I know for example, that fear is the biggest reason preventing me from getting that prostate examination that all men my age should be getting. I also know that whether driven by fear, ignorance or cultural expectations, Caribbean men seem to be giving less than adequate attention to issues relating to our health.
Right now, my father is dealing with some serious health concerns, and it seems almost difficult, nigh impossible, for him to even just admit that he's feeling pain. What pain? He is a man, and maybe he has bought into the idea expressed in the lyrics of the Mighty Diamonds' 1976 hit called Have Mercy. You know the line? It says "Man was made to suffer and women were made to feel the pain".
So Caribbean men, are we courageously suffering or cowardly avoiding our vulnerability? What will it take to make us deal more honestly with our health and wellness reality?