What to Expect at a Physical Exam When You Haven't Seen Doc in Ages

One iVillage contributing writer's resolve to be fit for 40 has led her to the doctor's office for her first physical since high school...comedy ensues

Since this past July, I’ve been on a quest to get in the best shape of my life by my 40th birthday. Granted, that is still eight months away, but so far I’ve lost 7.5 lbs (which puts me below my pre-pregnancy weight!) by changing my eating habits and exercise program. I feel like I’m in better shape than before I had my now two year-old twins!

The last time I remember getting a physical I was brought to the doctor’s office by my mom and rewarded for not crying with the lollipop of my choice. (The other doctor’s visit that I remember vividly is when the doc told me I had lice and I started screaming and hitting my head against the thin wood-paneled walls that separated the examining rooms. No lollipop for me.).

As an adult, I counted my twice-yearly trips to the gyno as enough of a checkup. But now that I’m approaching 40, I figured it was time to see where everything else was at. With that in mind, I made an appointment to get a physical even though this time there would be a bill waiting for me at the reception desk, not a basket full of colorful candy.

So on a sunny weekday morning, I showed up at Dr. Vladimir Alexeyenko’s office in New York City, ready to strip down and lie prone on an exam table covered in deli paper. The first part of the exam was to have my blood drawn.

Since your blood can reveal tons of important stuff about your health -- whether your cholesterol is too high, if you’re deficient in certain vitamins or if you have some life-sucking cancer -- I knew that this would be part of the exam. I used to be the type the passed out at the mere mention of blood work. More than once, my cheek has fallen against the cold tile floor with my ass exposed through the examining gown. I thought this was one hurdle I had managed to jump since the infertility treatments leading up to my twins required me to constantly get my blood drawn and stab myself with syringes full of magical chemicals. I figured a quick tube of blood would be no biggie.

The nurse who drew my blood that day had pale white skin, jet black hair and kind of looked like Elvira. Sure enough, as the tube started to slowly fill, I felt myself slipping into a woozy state. The room started to spin and the irises of Elvira’s big blue swimming pool eyes began to spin like two psychedelic pinwheels. Thankfully, I didn't hit the floor, she got the needed vial and I was ready for part two of the examination.

Dr. Alex appeared a few minutes later and when I told him about my Fit By 40 quest, he seemed intrigued. He listened to my heart, felt around for my spleen (which he said he would only feel if it was enlarged) had me open up and say “ah!” and asked if there was anything unusual going on with my skin or nails (no). He told me they'd check my cholesterol levels, and that some of the old thinking concerning cholesterol -- namely that we should avoid fats -- might not be accurate. “I have to have the whole egg,” he told me. “I have my butter, I have my red meat and my wine.” He explained that carbohydrates may be the culprit when it comes to spiking cholesterol levels.

Dr. Alex asked about my exercise routine and gave me some suggestions for strengthening my neck muscles. He explained that these muscles don’t normally get worked out or developed but that one wrong twist or turn can cause a painful injury, especially as we age. I got my flu shot and Dr. Alex congratulated me for already having gotten a baseline mammogram before the birth of my kids.

“Well you look great!” he said and sent me on my way. I felt pretty good about my first physical in years, and vowed to do it annually, around the time of the twins’ birthday since it was remember (and a significant reason to stay in good health).

A week later I got the results of my blood work -- my cholesterol levels looked good, but I was deficient in vitamins D and B12. Vitamin D made sense -- as a fair-skinned person, I go to vampire-like lengths to avoid too much sun exposure (direct sunlight is the main source of D). I consulted Frances Largeman-Roth, my nutritionist, and she recommended getting at least 15 minutes a day of direct sun exposure, but allowed that I should still put sunscreen on my face. The B12 deficiency surprised her, since I’m not a vegetarian and B12 is often found in animal protein such as fatty fish and eggs. “It looks like you should cook up an omelet tonight!” she suggested.  That sounded like a relatively painless fix to me, and since I’m not big on taking vitamins (recent studies have shown that nutrients in pill form are not as effective as when they come from food -- some experts even think that taking vitamins may actually be detrimental to your health) I liked that she offered me natural sources. I plan to follow up with Dr. Alex to make sure all my stats stay on track -- and my Fit by 40 quest continues!



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