Please Ask, Please Tell

Practical Darryl's suggestions for gay patients and their doctors.

Posted Oct 06, 2010

It was all I could do to keep from getting the needle. Walking in with a purpose, the nurse directed me to turn on my side. I told her she was in the wrong room, to get out. Only when she turned on the light did she realize I was the doctor. I had come in for an emergency and lay down for a few hours before having to get up again. Sometimes, nurses need orientation.

Social worker Darryl tells a similar story. He says the worst offenses happen with gay patients. He says that his gay patients, and there are thousands of them now, tell him many hospital staff workers don't accept their sexual orientation. One patient woke up to a group of nurses praying around his bed: They were praying to de-gay him. Can you imagine a group of nurses praying to covert an atheist patient to a believer? So many gays keep their sexual orientation to themselves.

Isn't it bad enough you have an illness? That's what Darryl thinks. So to support gays with illness, especially prostate cancer, Darryl started the not-for-profit MaleCare. At first, MaleCare offered monthly support group meetings in Manhattan. Today, it offers lectures, workshops, informational web sites, blogs, and such awareness programs as Men's Health Night, when you're supposed to turn on a blue bulb. MaleCare works in niche services, including the first national support program for gay, lesbian, transgender, and bisexual people with cancer and the world's only male breast cancer support group. Unlike most prostate advocacy groups, MaleCare goes beyond cancer to also offer information about chronic prostatitis, which no-one seems willing to discuss.

Darryl is a practical man who delights in practical news. "Now that the FTC has laid into pomegranate juice, I'm switching to Coca Cola," he says with a grin. And as for patients' sexual orientation, he offers this bit of advice: "Please ask, please tell."

The reality is that every doctor has gay patients. If he thinks otherwise, he simply hasn't asked. And this matter of sexual preference matters. As Darryl asks: Who would you like to have holding your hand as you're being wheeled into surgery: Your life partner or a hospital orderly? And who would you like to have get visitation rights in the hospital?

And if you're gay, the reality is that your doctor may have missed it. You think that just because you bring your partner to your doctor visits and he sits with you in the room that your doctor has a clue? Maybe not.

Darryl tells of a gay man who asked his doctor about penis shortening as a side effect of prostate treatment. Reportedly, the doctor said that women don't really care about size. And what bothered the patient was not the quip about size but that his doctor referred to women, not men. Didn't he know I'm gay, asked the patient? Obviously not. So don't assume the doctor knows.

All patients have problems with illness and treatment. Straight men, like gay men, face the prospect of embarrassment from urinary incontinence during oral sex. All patients, young and old and male and female, bring in biases and phobias and facets they'd rather keep to themselves. Like my patient this morning who, after 20 years of fidelity, had a lapse in down in Lima and had unprotected sex with the daughter of a business associate and then came home and had sex with his wife and now is sure he feels a pain in his urethra. Patients have a right to confidentiality. They also have a right and a need to share openly what they think is important.

Darryl says that doctors and nurses are human, that they are not necessarily born with compassion. Some doctors and nurses are judgmental. That's part of being human, even if it seems so unfair. So what does practical Darryl advise? Donuts! Bring the nurses donuts. Every shift, a new batch of donuts.

Darryl the social worker is a general leading an ever increasing army in the war on behalf of all who live in the niches. You can find him on Facebook, on Twitter, and some days, over in the donut shop.

Copyright © 2010 Arnon Krongrad, MD

About the Author

Arnon Krongrad, M.D., specializes in surgery for prostate cancer and chronic prostatitis.

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