Confessions from an Ex-ER Worker

I saw many things while working in the ER.

I saw families grateful for the doctors and nurses who saved the lives of their loved ones. I saw spouses and significant others in grief over the loss of their wife, husband, or close companion. I heard so many stories of “close calls” and “miraculous recoveries” that a lot of them seem to run together in a blur.

After a while, you could start to see a trend and almost categorize the patients. For example, you had the emergency category: heart attacks, strokes, etc. Then, you had the hypochondriac category:”I felt hot so I went on WebMD and now I think I have cancer.” Yea, you definitely had those!

And then there was the man category: conditions specific to men, preventable and avoidable if taken care of early.

Now, I know what you may be thinking. Are there really that many things that men do that would cause them to end up in the emergency department?

The answer to that is, yes. Yes there are.

In fact, about 12.4 percent of men age 18 and over are in fair or poor health. The truth is that men are not taking care of themselves. With only 52.4 percent of men meeting federal physical activity guidelines for aerobic activity and 34.5 percent of men over the age of 20 being obese, you can see there is great room for improvement.

The patients placed in my man category and the problems they faced were not earthshattering, newly discovered conditions. I’m not talking about a man getting injured while fighting off a crocodile or falling from a tree rescuing an elderly neighbor’s cat.

When I think back to the conditions that men were coming into the ER with, about a fourth to a third of them were preventable. If you think about the leading causes of death in men, heart attacks are number one. While some heart attacks occur in healthy men, the majority are due to an underlying cause that exercise or proper nutrition could prevent.

Diet and exercise is a very boring topic but its serious. Not taking it seriously can lead to complications down the road such as heart disease and diabetes.

While I normally place the second problem can affect women as well, it appeared to affect men more seriously.

This problem that I am speaking of is alcohol. The long-term effects of heavy alcohol use can be liver disease, cirrhosis, alcohol induced pancreatitis, etc. And then there are the short-term consequences that can affect even the healthiest of men.

For instance, it seemed like every Saturday night a crowd of severely intoxicated young men would descend on the ER like the plague. Whether they were there for drinking too much (alcohol poisoning) or from an injury sustained as a result of drinking (sometimes this was from fighting), these healthy young men were suffering from their decisions to drink an obscene amount of alcohol.

The CDC reports that men are twice as likely to binge drink as women and they consistently have higher rates of hospitalization than women for their drinking. Nearly 5 percent of men meet the criteria for having an alcohol use disorder and will not seek treatment.

From my experience, telling young healthy men about the long-term effects of drinking did not curb this trend. A better approach is to help them identify reasons to stop that are important to them.

So what are some things that may be important to men? I bet that most men don’t know that heavy alcohol use can affect their reproductive and sexual function.

Yes, you heard me correctly.

To be specific, drinking too much can interfere with testicular function and hormone production which can lead to infertility and a suppression of secondary sex characteristics like chest and facial hair. Not to mention poor performance in the bedroom.

Testicular torsion was another true emergency situation specific to men that I saw several cases of.

This very painful and unfortunate event occurs when a testicle rotates, twisting the spermatic cord that brings blood to the scrotum. This can cause severe pain, swelling, and if left untreated, “death” of the testicle.

Testicular torsion can occur after strenuous activity, an injury to the testicles, or sleep. I saw many “near losses” in men that were very stubborn and came to the ER at the last possible minute (literally) before there was no possibility of surgical correction.

What is amazing is that, once again, the severity of this condition can be prevented. If addressed and treated early, surgery is not even necessary. If a man ever gets a sudden onset of severe pain and swelling down there, I would advise them to seek help sooner rather than later. Put your pride to the side for this one guys!

The last problem that I placed into the man category can arguably happen to females as well: accidents. The reasons accidents were categorized into the man category was because of the specific nature of these accidents.

For example, some common ones I saw were penis injuries due to a multitude of strange and ridiculous dares, often among college-aged patients. You also had the old “oops I zipped my testicles up in my jeans”, and last but not least was the ‘stuck foreign object in the body’ complaint.

Accidents are among the top three leading causes of death in men. Not necessarily the ones I listed above, but still. With an average life expectancy approximately seven years shorter than that of a female, I don’t think you can be too careful.

I hope that you have a better understanding of why many of the problems affecting men’s health can be prevented. Making certain lifestyle changes, admitting you may need help, not being stubborn, and just being more careful are all great starting points!

I think Congressman Bill Richardson said it best, “Recognizing and preventing men’s health problems is not just a man’s issue. Because of its impact on wives, mothers, daughters, and sisters, men’s health is truly a family issue.”



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