By Khaya Ronkainen
I am a plump child afflicted with a skin disease, which doctors cannot diagnose. Only their repetitive advice, “Stay out of the sun!” brings me temporary relief. Regardless, I am beautiful. But I don’t hear much about my beauty from my parents, instead from relatives and strangers. In fact, my beauty often compels strangers to plant kisses on my cheeks without my parents’ permission. As young as I am, I can see a twinkle of pride in my father’s eyes and a hidden smile dancing on my mother’s lips.
As a teenager I add to my plumpness, eyeglasses and bookworm tendencies. Because I have no interest in sports, my body size makes me look older than I am. In addition to residual dark marks and scarring on my legs and arms from the skin disease, I start battling severe bouts of acne. In spite of everything, my beauty status doesn’t change. At boarding school, boys my age compete for my attention. At home, my mother starts to fend marriage proposals from villagers, who want me as their daughter-in-law. I’m only thirteen years old.
This attention starts to get me confused about what beauty really means. Because I certainly don’t feel beautiful. Yet I can’t dismiss compliments from people who see me as such. I don’t bother to ask others what exactly makes me beautiful because comments about my beauty are varied. But I begin to imagine it might have to do with my soft eyes, which allow me to hold things at the center of my gaze while I remain aware of everything that goes on around me. Perhaps, it’s my affiliative smile from which people expect to see dimples. But I don’t dimple.
In late adolescence, I learn my body loves to move. This is a coincidental discovery as I take up tennis only to imitate my older sister, who is a professional player. While I find slight enjoyment in being confused for her in tennis circles, even though we don’t resemble each other that much, I branch out to find my own identity. And it’s at the university great hall, in my sophomore year, I first become aware of the power rested on my hips as I learn to cha-cha dance.
While I’ve completely shed my baby fat, my pear-shaped body struggles to find a good fit with clothes. I take to making my own or buying clothing to refashion it in order to feel comfortable in it. Wearing skirts and dresses doesn’t make me cool among my peers, who have discovered the appeal of sexy jeans. I don’t despair much because I find my memorably beautiful and unique friends.
As a young woman, I learn to walk on stilettos. But I’m hopeless as I teeter on uneven pavements in a big city with blisters on my feet. Hence, when I land my first job, I add a gym contract to my monthly expenses to strengthen my muscles. My determination pays off. I measure this by a turn of heads each time I approach. Unfortunately, disdainful catcalling from men who have hopes to own my body also ensues.
I’m told about the power of women appreciating one another but in the same sentence, I hear about women who envy appearance. That’s why sometimes I can’t distinguish between appreciation and envy. So, I learn to tread with caution as I navigate mixed looks I get from other women. Sometimes these looks are decidedly lustful across the board, something that makes me feel awkward and leads to avoiding social gatherings. Regardless, I am a success as I sashay my heavy thighs and curvy hips around town.
Suddenly I’m a plus-size, my shopping experience in ages. Who designs these customized size charts, anyway? As a grown woman, I wish I could say I don’t really care. But the industry seems intent on making us hate our bodies. Nonetheless, the fact that I am beautiful holds true now as I mature to myself with heavier arms, disappearing waist and a derriere that needs firmer support. Because when you’ve been told all your life that you are beautiful, it’s really difficult to see yourself otherwise.
My beauty was never perfect. Along the way, I learned my beauty has little to do with my physical appearance or age but a sense of self that was instilled in me from a very young age. In a society hell-bent on qualifying and quantifying beauty as it offers an array of invasive and expensive promises for youthful beauty, I simply smile. Because my middle life crisis is strapped on my hiking boots. This too is a journey of constant self-affirmation.
Khaya Ronkainen is a South African-Finnish writer of poetry and prose. Her work is largely inspired by nature, often examines duality of an immigrant life and also explores themes on ageing. To learn more, visit her site at https://www.khayaronkainen.fi
Instagram: @Khaya Ronkainen
If you’re in midlife and are still managing your medical health like you did in your early 20s, then it’s time for a reboot. We are past the age of relying purely on just-in-time medical care and only queueing up the corner walk-in clinic whenever the sniffles or a sore throat gets us down . . . and getting by fine on that alone.
By the time you hit your 30s and beyond, it’s time to take a more proactive and decisive approach to your healthcare. Part of that means no longer being reactionary to potential problems – only going to the doctor when you think something is wrong. It requires a shift in mindset and a new understanding that you need to get proactive about your well-being.
Being proactive means to get ready for something before you need to. It means anticipating, predicting and preparing ahead of time.
One of the most proactive things you can do for your health is to get an annual physical. An annual physical is exactly what it sounds like; it is a yearly visit to a primary care doctor to do a general review of your health status and to check on the vitals that keep you running. The doctor who performs a physical may go by different titles, such as general medicine physician, adult medicine doctor, internal medicine physician, general practitioner (GP) and family medicine doctor. Whatever the name, these doctors are basically generalists who have broad-based knowledge about the body, its systems and its functions. This is different from, say, a specialist whose expertise lies in a specific organ, system or part of the body, like a cardiologist focuses on the heart, a psychiatrist deals with the brain, an endocrinologist concentrates on hormones and an oncologist addresses cancer.
Ideally, a physical should happen every year. Why? Because the initial physical helps to establish your baseline and every future visit then can be used to monitor current health but also reflect on patterns that merit more consideration.
What Happens During a Physical?
A physical is nothing to fear. Even for the most doctor-phobic, a regular yearly physical is little to feel apprehensive about. This is what usually happens:
You sign in and let the staff know you’re there. You may need to provide additional information, like your insurance card and ID. You may also need to complete forms about your health history and current medications. After this, you may wait for a bit – maybe 15-30 minutes on average. (If it takes 45 minutes or longer to get called back, this may be a sign the practice has poor scheduling practices [overbooks], poor patient service skills or other issues that may be worth seeking another doctor later on.)
A nurse will usually call you back. Once in the clinical area, you will typically be weighed, asked about your height (or measured) and your blood pressure will be taken. Then you are escorted to the actual patient room, usually asked to disrobe from the waist up and wear a paper gown, and will wait for the doctor. (Again, the wait should not be too long – 20-25 minutes max.)
The doctor will come in and greet you, and introduce himself or herself if it’s the first encounter with you. They will ask you some general questions about your health history and the information you’ve already indicated on intake forms. Usually this will relate to prior surgeries, current medications, any allergies and any recent health problems or ongoing diagnoses / conditions that are being managed.
You should have the opportunity to ask questions or bring up any concerns about your health. This is a good time to bring up any symptoms you’ve noticed, changes in the effectiveness of any medications you’re on or general questions about your health and wellness.
The doctor will typically perform a few cursory examinations – listening to your pulse, heart and lungs; checking your ears and eyes; checking your reflexes; looking at your skin; appraising your general demeanor (though this will go unmentioned usually); and asking about your mental health, sexual health (behavior), fitness level and dietary habits.
The doctor will then typically order routine bloodwork. The things they check for in these labs are usually the complete blood counts, blood sugar, indicators of kidney function, cholesterol and, in some cases, thyroid. Note that you can request any labs you desire. If you want a hormone panel, ask for one. If you want to check for an autoimmune condition, ask for those labs. If you need a clear head about your STD status, ask for those tests, too.
Assuming no potential problems are noticed, your appointment will conclude uneventfully. You will be told that your lab results will be available via the patient portal (if the practice has one) or that they will call you with the results or send them in the mail. It is important to read the lab results for yourself. Even if there are no current problems “on paper,” there could be signs that something is amiss or just not quite right, especially for numbers that are trending on the higher end of normal or the lower end of normal. The entire office visit for a physical may take about an hour and certainly no more than two hours, though this should be at the upper limit for sure.
Most insurance plans cover annual physicals in full, or they cover all of the costs except for the initial visit copay, assuming you go to an in-network doctor. Realize that on some occasions the lab work will later be billed separately, sometimes by a separate company or a different department within the practice. In those instances, insurance will usually cover most of the costs.
You should get a physical every year. Why? For starters, it helps to maintain an established relationship with your primary care provider. This is the go-to doctor for your basic needs, like antibiotics for a sinus infection or a UTI. They are also who you’ll need to go through, in many cases, if you end up needing a specialist; the primary care doctor provides the referral. Additionally, a lot can change in a year. Preventive care is often the first step in identifying and treating a medical issue before it becomes a bigger problem.
The Real Peri Meno is devoted to all things perimenopause - the science, treatments, care, understanding, personal experiences, relationships, culture and more. The brain child of Keisha D. Edwards, The Real Peri Meno developed out of her own shock-and-awe experience with perimenopause and navigating the disjointed U.S. medical system in search of answers, support and relief.
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