What Does Your Mommy Do For a Living?

The year was 1997, and my youngest was having his sixth birthday.  What he wanted for his party was for me to take him and his friends to the local amusement park.  They would have free access to the rides, swarm the arcade, play on the ersatz beach with its immense man made waves, and just generally be the hooligans that little boys are.  The reward at the end of the afternoon was a pizza party complete with cake and ice cream, provided by the park. All I had to do was drive seven of these fine young cannibals in my big Suburban and survive the trip.  So amidst jovial punches punctuated by squeals of pain and newly learned curses muttered under peanut butter breath, we set off.

As the boys settled in for the long drive, the physical combat waned while the verbal combat was just warming up.  The six year olds were actively engaged in a game of “mine is bigger than yours”.  Only they weren’t talking about their sexual prowess—that would be years in the future.  They were talking about everything else—who had the biggest bedroom, who had the biggest house, who had the biggest dog, and ultimately, whose Daddy had the best job and made the most money.  As the competition escalated, my son grew quiet and thoughtful.  As I glanced in the rear view mirror, I could almost see the cogs turning in his brain.  And then, the zinger!  He pulled himself forward in his seat, and announced, with great authority: “My Mommy makes her living putting her finger up men’s assholes!”.  Let’s just say that that was a show stopper.

Yes, I treat prostate cancer.  I have ALWAYS been interested in this disease, and several of my first research papers dealt with novel radiation sensitizing drugs for locally advanced prostate cancer.  Early on in my career, I worried and fretted about how to best “approach” (both literally and figuratively), these men who were more than twice my age and who were definitely NOT used to having a young female physician performing, shall we say, a rather delicate exam.  I discovered that the trick was putting them at ease with me as a person first, giving them time to tell me about themselves, making their wives comfortable in a consultation room, not an exam room.  And finally, joking with them that my fingers were “oh so very small, compared to those giant urologist hands!”  It was a cakewalk after that.

Years and years went by, and I had no problems whatsoever convincing these sometimes grumpy old men that it was just fine to have a female physician.  But late last year, despite all my efforts to build my reputation with patients and urologists alike, there was a problem.  My secretary told me that a prostate cancer patient had been referred, and his wife was insisting that he would ONLY see a male physician.  She said he was adamant—NO LADY DOCTORS!   Now this was a touchy situation—at the time, I was the ONLY physician at my facility, and his insurance dictated that there were no alternatives.  Once she understood that it was me, or no one, she accepted the appointment.

The day came for the consultation, and I escorted the patient and his wife into our consultation room, a lovely room outfitted with a couch, a coffee table and two chairs, a living room away from home.  We discussed his case at length, and after fully assessing his symptoms, we left his wife in the consult room and went into the exam room for his physical exam.   I knew that he would be nervous, despite the fact that he didn’t LOOK nervous.  In an effort to put him at ease, I said, “Mr. S, I know that you didn’t want to be examined and treated by a female physician, so I want to assure you that I will be very gentle with you and very discrete.”  His blue eyes crinkled and he looked at me sideways, and a low chuckle  emerged from a bright smile.  He said, “Who told you THAT?”  I said, “Well, your wife, sir.”  At that point he was laughing so loud his eyes welled up with tears.  He exclaimed, “That wasn’t ME who didn’t want to see a woman doctor, that was my JEALOUS WIFE!”   This man was 80 years old, and his wife not a day younger.

I don’t worry about these things anymore.  I know my patients love me for who I am.  And the word is out on golf courses all over town—I give the best “finger wave” in the business!


  1. My fist female primary physician, an internist who became a good friend and who sadly had to move, won my heart with a version of that. She was interviewing me or I her for the first time (she saw a limited number of patients) and ticked off “prostate exam.” I must have looked momentarily dubious, because she suddenly gave me a wicked grin (she was a slight, rather formal New England WASP) and said “Don’t worry– I have VERY small fingers!”

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