The pros and cons of veteran doctors


You may wonder if there is a story behind this week’s Broadside cartoon.

There is.

I had a physical last week and my physician was a former Air Force doctor. I immediately felt at ease, because we spoke a common language. I could say things like, “Roger that”, and not get a weird look – or even a glance. I liked that.

But as the exam progressed, I realized there can also be a down side to having a doctor who used to wear the uniform. Here are some of the reasons.

1. They are direct. They don’t say, “You might want to restrict your diet.” They say, “You are fat and need to lose weight.”

2. They make quick decisions. When I showed him a freckle, I was expecting him to tell me to “keep an eye on it” for a while. Instead, he told me he was going to cut it out and send it in for a biopsy. And he did. Only later did he say he didn’t think it was anything bad.

3. They don’t sugarcoat things. He told me to change my diet. His advice: “Basically, if it looks good, you can’t eat it.”

4. But those reasons don’t even scratch the surface about the REAL misgiving, which (of course) involved the prostate exam. The prostate procedure is awkward on many, many, many levels; not the least of which is the fact that a total stranger is going to delve into areas (so to speak) that we don’t like being delved. We are at our most vulnerable during the procedure. Our self worth is as low as it can get.

So with that background, let me say that it is unnerving when, during the actual exam, your doctor laughs.

Regular doctors don’t do that. At that exact time, one expects morgue-like solemnity. A quiet respect for what the patient is going through, to allow him a shred of dignity.

But he laughed. Maybe I shouldn’t have said, after being told to put my elbows on the examining table, “This is like being on active duty again.”

He thought that was funny. The fact that the situation was anything BUT funny apparently did not occur to him. In my mind, his laugh began to distort into something evil scientists chortle in horror movies.


Maybe I shouldn’t have told him I was in the Navy. Maybe he holds a deep seated grudge from his days in uniform. Maybe he heard one too many “Country Club” jokes from the other services, or lost a bar fight to a Sailor. I don’t know, but I had better figure it out.

There are only 359 days until the next prostate exam. And that’s no laughing matter.


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  1. When I started to complain to my primary care physician about the prostrate exam, my primary care physician who just happens to be a retired Navy captain and a woman said: ” at ease, you should be a woman” and with that I submitted myself to the humbling exam.

  2. Ahh, the old prostate exam–almost as fun as the colonoscopy! I remember my first time–got a Navy LT female doctor–very attractive too. When I Inquired about getting a male doctor she said she would “get “Boris” who was 6’7″ and had fingers like sausages”. I let her do the exam!

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