How to ace your physical exam

While most of the world was busy making New Year’s resolutions, I was in the throes of cramming for my physical exam.

It’s not like I don’t know a year in advance that this annual assessment is on the calendar. Since I’ve fallen short of a health makeover once again, looks like I’ll rely on my wits and winning personality to pull off a passing grade.

Reading and yoga is so relaxing. (photo by Shallow Reflections™)

Did you know there has been evidence rattling around for decades showing no benefit to this once a year ritual? But the medical community is slow to embrace change, especially when it brings in change.

Since I can’t reform American medicine, it is time to bone up and get prepared. After all, if I don’t show up for class once a year with my medical provider, I won’t get recognized when I raise my hand in mid-February with a fever of 103 and a chest full of phlegm. Instead I will hear, “Sorry, you’ve been expelled!”

The first hurdle: the public weigh in

Tell me why a health care system that spends billions of dollars per second, cannot afford a scale in each exam room? I have one at home that was not expensive, and it is thinner than the new MacBook Air. If I used it, I’m sure it would be accurate.

At any rate, there is one upright scale located in the public hallway, as intimidating as airport security. It waves people through to the inner sanctum after it reveals your digital weight carried out 5 decimal points.

Since I like to get down to bare essentials for a weigh in, it is very embarrassing to stand in my underwear with others looking on. So I’ve come up with a different approach.

A carefully timed dose of ipecac syrup will result in ejection of stomach contents as I approach the BMI police. By the time the medical assistant has called for the clean up crew, I’ve been ushered into an exam room.

Depending on what my last meal was, this should result in a stamp in my chart placing me on the “NWL” (No Weight List).

‘Preventive’ tests

‘Preventive’ tests should be labeled ‘Tests to Look for Diseases.’ I offer up blood and tissue sacrifices, and squeeze delicate parts of my anatomy into radiation emitting de-vises. Then I wait for my scores, which I hope arrive in envelopes instead of via the dreaded Phone Call.

I have issues with criticism, so I carefully consider the consequences of subjecting myself to this cellular scrutiny. I am also mindful that results could be wrong, like my siblings who say I was a spoiled and lazy child.

Lifestyle questions

Describe your alcohol intake?

The latest guidelines for women are: 1 but no more than 2 drinks daily, for maximum of 7 drinks per week. I have a proven technique for making this warped math equation work. If I’m in danger of reaching that magic number 7 early in the week, I simply start the week over.

Answer: “I follow the guidelines for healthy drinking in women.”

Do you smoke? I like to have multiple-choice answers ready for this question.

a) Do I need to count the cigars I smoke around the back yard fire pit?
b) You mean tobacco?
c) Not yet.
d) Only when I dress up.

What do you do for exercise?

I stand at my desk for 3-4 hours/week, flex my feet and toes while I watch TV, and power walk multiple times from the living room to the refrigerator each evening. I toss and turn in bed most nights, with minimum of three trips to the bathroom.

Answer: “I stay active both at work and at home.”

How would you describe your eating habits?

Answer: I follow Michael Pollan’s “Food Rules.” (My version: Eat food. Too much. Mostly sugar).

When your twenty something medical assistant begins to stifle a giggle, you know she has come to the sex questions. Her nimble mind, still capable of doing mental math, calculated your age from your date of birth, and she checked off the box ‘not applicable.’ 

I’m relieved when I don’t show signs of a terminal illness during the 15 minutes I spent with the principal my doctor. Now all I have to fret about are the 364 days, 23 hours and 45 minutes I manage on my own, hoping to avoid detention or worse: a ‘final’ exam.

Next year I’m due for a colonoscopy, which is a graduate level ‘test looking for cancer.’ Instead of spending time at the head of the class, I’ll be doing time in ‘the head.’

How do you prepare for your physical exam? Do you have some Cliff Notes you’d like to share? Do you strive to make the dean’s list or settle for ‘pass/fail’?



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19 thoughts on “How to ace your physical exam

  1. OMG, I made my hubby pause the DVR so I could read this out loud to him…the smoking answers and the exercise! I will have to add tossing and turning in bed and trips to the bathroom for my fitbit exercise. LOL!

  2. Sounds awful! We don’t actually have this over here (we do for specific purposes, but not as a yearly thing for everyone), thankfully. Love your answers. I have problems when I have to answer any questions for doctors on the drinking, smoking, exercise thing. I genuinely do not drink at all, have never smoked, & pre-children (definitely not now) I worked out 5-6 days a week. You cannot look more like you are lying than by giving those answers. I seriously used to contemplate lying & pretending I do drink, just to sound more truthful!

    • Yes, UK is way ahead of us in utilizing health care dollars for things that make sense. How funny that you felt like you were lying when you ‘admitted’ to not having poor health habits. Apparently we health care workers have become so jaded in our exposure to the unhealthy in our society, we have trouble believing someone with a healthy lifestyle. I say you go girl!

  3. I also have a fear of medical exams and compare them to school tests. I just want to pass everything and be left alone! I’m glad to see its not just me. Great post.

    • I’m working on a post right now about my aversion to medical imaging, so I am on the same page with you, Laurie. I know these tests have their place, I’d just rather not be the subject of them!

  4. LOL – the one about the scale, and the drinking, hilarious! I also hate how, on the scale, they leave your weight up there – for the world to see until the next person steps on it.

  5. I work for a surgeon who does colonoscopies every day – let me know if you need any tips closer to the time – my tip is “you’ve got to die from something and there’s no way he’s looking at my bottom!”

    • I couldn’t agree with you more, Leanne. I haven’t broken this news to my doctor, yet, because I think she gets some sort of bonus if I sign up for all these ‘preventive’ tests, but I don’t think I’ll have another colonoscopy. If I cave, I’ll be sure to get the inside scoop from you. Oops. That was a terrible choice of words, wasn’t it???

  6. My one and only goal, account of my medical history, is to get out of there without a cancer diagnosis! All else is like a walk in the park, albeit possibly a poorly kept one. And, your still in denial re the sibling comment. Brother Marvin.

    • I share your goal, brother, even without the checkered medical history. At least you are walking….I’m mostly a ‘sitter.’ As for the denial, I know I’ll never change your warped view of the past. hahaha!


    I bet you I have a dictionary of cliff notes from the thousands of outlandish answers I get from patients. They can become really quite creative. ?
    I’ll go with a pass/fail. I’m not looking to make the Dean’s List. I like fruit far too much. ???????

    • Those cliff notes are like GOLD. I need to compile for future reference. I don’t want to keep changing doctors when she gets onto my game, so I’ll have to mix up the answers. I’m also striving for pass/fail. Or preferably pass/pass. 🙂

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