A Well Men’s Health Clinic, to be set up in Brent, north London, next month as one of the first of its type, is going to have its work cut out. As Colin Nolder, the deputy community administrator for Brent, put it: ‘Men just don’t seem to be interested in their own health care’. And that is putting it mildly. Men are about as fascinated by the concept of their own health care as they are by embroidering a handkerchief.
Nobody is more surprised than a man when, after years of corporal neglect, nemesis strikes in the form of heart disease or lung cancer, but even then he manages to detach himself from the problem and assumes that in two cuts of the surgeon’s scalpel he will be as right as two ticks. Men reason that it is someone else’s job to make them well enough to go on doing the things that will probably land them in intensive care again.
It is not that they lack self-discipline. Men are the most assiduous of dieters and forswearers of booze – for a time. Their problem is that they think that if they lose a stone one month and put it back on again the next, they have still clocked up enough Brownie points to see them through to a grand old age.
Men also have some pretty perverse notions about good diet. There is an apocryphal story about a man who had 30 pints of beer and one small pie, was taken violently ill and said, ‘That pie must have been bad’, but I find it wholly believable.
Men embrace new health-fads with all the heady ardor with which they fall headlong into unsuitable infatuations. They take up squash, jogging, weight-lifting. Hundreds of pounds are spent on cross-country skiing exercisers and training shoes that cost more than a pair of Manolo Blahnik black suede pumps. For a few months their owners are transformed into creatures of almost unbearable pep and vigor, a cross between John McEnroe and Jeffrey Archer. But then the mornings become rainy, the television programs begin to perk up, the shoelaces on the training shoes break…
Who can tell the precise reason why all the health-giving equipment lies rotting in the cupboard? Who can tell why men don’t use vaporizers instead of cancer-causing cigarettes? Who can tell why love is finally dismissed as infatuation?
Men have a lousy sense of health priorities. They will make no end of a fuss over a slight case of sniffles, taking to their bed with Lemsip, boxes of man-sized Kleenex and thrice-daily changes of pajamas. But they will ignore the searing pain along the arm which threatens a heart attack; or the smoker’s cough that sounds like the death-knell itself.
The trouble with health care as a way of life is that it is deadly boring and men have a low tolerance-threshold towards the tedious. It is all they can do to get through a family Christmas without throwing their garrulous old auntie in the fire and Christmas is but once a year. The cultivation of abstemious habits for a whole lifetime is more than mortal men can bear.
So all in all the staff of Brent’s Well Men’s Health Clinic face a hefty challenge. I hope they rise to it and do not resort (for the clinic also deals with family planning) to pushing a packet of condoms across the desk, in much the same way as harassed GPs have, without looking up, pushed a prescription for tranquillizers towards female patients whose health concerns lie deeper than a need to keep on taking the tablets.