Cardella: The Medical Questionnaire


By Tom Cardella

My well-chronicled medical illnesses have led me to engage a specialist for just about every part of my body. I love my doctors. If you’re annoyed by these weekly columns, you can blame those doctors, whose collective effort has kept me reasonably healthy all these years. But (and you knew there would be a “but” because if there were no “but” there would be no column) is it really necessary to complete a medical questionnaire before every visit?

The first part of the questionnaire asks a patient to detail every symptom he or she might be feeling. In my neurotic state, I find myself imagining I have every symptom. Did I just grind my teeth? Is that a headache coming on? What was that twinge in my chest? Did my bowel movements change? Maybe I ought to keep a bowel movement diary? By the time I finish the questionnaire, I’m ready to be admitted to the emergency room.

The next part of the questionnaire asks you to examine the history of your family’s health. Is there anything more depressing than chronicling Uncle Nunzi’s high cholesterol? I now realize that I don’t know which specific diseases killed off three-quarters of my family. No one ever told me why my maternal grandmother never ate dinner with her family. As far as I could tell from family lore, she preferred staying in her room for long periods of time. Was it because she hated to cook or was there a deeper meaning? Maybe she was depressed because when my grandfather agreed to travel, he meant north of Snyder Avenue.

God forbid if someone contracted cancer in our family. I don’t remember the word “cancer” being mentioned in family conversation. The men referred to the disease only as “the big C.” The women talked about it in hushed tones. I never could find out if Uncle Alphonse had received treatment for cancer or suffered from sinus congestion. Uncle Alphonse was the one who supposedly played poker every Saturday night. We teenagers in the family suspected he was a cheater. We felt the game should have been called “poke her.”

How the hell can you fill out a questionnaire about the history of your family’s health when the subject was talked about only in whispers? It wasn’t as if we kids received a daily briefing. It is with some degree of shock that I realized after filling out the medical questionnaire that our family supposedly had every illness known to medical science. We singlehandedly busted the nation’s health-care system. I feel that the survivors on both sides of our family owe Mitch McConnell and the Republicans an apology.

A tip to seniors, always carry a list of your medications with you. A prerequisite for filling out a medical questionnaire is that you remember the names and dosages of all of your medications. By the time you reach your 70s, the likelihood is that your list of medications is so long it could fill three shelves in your local pharmacy. A well-worn copy of The Pharmacopeia is the only book in my house. I recommend that if you can remember all your medications and dosages, you shouldn’t have to take the test to see if you suffer from dementia.

Note — I just had to stop writing this column to take five pills. Where was I? Did I mention that these medical questionnaires can be sneaky? Under a category titled “social history”, there is a question that asks whether you are “sexually active.” The question may be answered by checking a box marked “yes” or “no.” I am 78 years old and have been married for 53 years. I am tempted to write “make me an offer.” But there is no space for comments. I believe this question needs clarification. Define “active.” In fact, how about defining “sexually?” At my age, when my wife occasionally pinches my cheek, I consider that being “sexually active.” If we each pinch the other’s cheek, that’s ”hot sex.”

There is no self-respecting male, no matter what the age, who checks “no” on whether he is sexually active. To the male animal, if you check “no,” they might as well stamp “deceased” next to your name.

Recently I was required to update my medical history online prior to a visit to my surgeon. I quickly ran through the categories, stopping only to ponder whether Aunt Millie really suffered from kidney stones or was imagining the symptoms. Mom claimed that she did it “just to get attention.” When I came to the question of whether I am sexually active, I was stunned to find that someone had changed my previous “yes” response to “no.” How could this happen?

This is wrong on so many levels. Was the government spying on me? Had someone in the medical department decided that at my age, I couldn’t possibly have meant to check “yes?” Had they narrowed the definition of “sexually active?” Was no one interested in the truth anymore? Could this action be a form of retaliation by the Trump Administration against a member of the media? How dare they change my answer without my permission! Worse, could it be my wife who made the change? Please everyone just butt out of my sex life!

But then as Shakespeare once wrote, perhaps I doth protest too much.