Janet Sheridan: Test anxiety creates unnecessary stress
All through my schooling, I tested well. When other students complained of sleepless nights, sweaty palms and nervous stomachs during finals week, I remained smugly silent. But lately, I, too, suffer from test anxiety because now a test means having my vein stuck with a turkey baster, my bottom exposed to strangers, or my bosom squeezed to a crepe.
I especially dislike going to see a specialist for a more obscure test.
My stress begins when I receive multiple forms with 200 questions to answer before my appointment. It escalates as I spend an afternoon recording the cause of death for each of my ancestors and whether I’m depressed or have bladder-control issues. Then it soars when the in-take nurse asks me the same 200 questions and ignores the forms I completed in advance as ordered.
The first test is a weigh-in, which I take fully clothed in winter garb, including boots, with no time to discard my everything-I-might-need purse. I’m then told I’ve gained weight. A height measurement follows. The nurse notes my height, looks at my chart, and announces that I’m shrinking. Finally, she takes my blood pressure, shakes her head in concern, and asks if I’m stressed.
Listen, Honey, during the last five minutes, I failed three tests and learned I’m short and fat with high blood pressure. In addition, the doctor will soon ignore my forms and the nurse’s notes and repeat all 200 of the same damn questions I’ve already answered twice. Then he’ll order another test. Of course I’m stressed.
Sometimes, preparing for a test makes the test itself seem like a birthday party.
A newcomer to the colonoscopy club, I felt faint as I realized the torture I’d undergo for the twenty-four hours preceding my procedure. But I followed the directions, chugging a gallon of liquid and developing a deeper relationship with my bathroom. I comforted myself during the ordeal by thinking that maybe if I told the nurse my feet tend to get cold, she’d let me leave my socks on during the exam. How pitiful.
The discomfort of mammograms increases with each new x-ray machine equipped with extra-special squeezing powers. At 10, I overheard two ladies gossiping about poor Midge, who caught her tit in a wringer. At the time, I couldn’t imagine how Midge managed to accomplish such a feat; now, once a year, I experience the metaphor.
During eye exams, I peer anxiously through a machine, unable to see any difference between lens A and lens B. Dental exams cause me to flashback to my childhood: Blunt needles pushing heavy loads of Novocain too quickly into my gums; slow drills like jackhammers jarring my brain; the dentist chiding me for flinching after he blasted freezing air into the gigantic hole he excavated. As a result, whenever I’m in a dental chair, every second I expect dental hell to break loose.
My annual skin exams also make me hyperventilate: I’m told to keep an eye on three moles located on the back of my legs and get an appointment if I notice the slightest change. For the next 12 months, I corkscrew my body and wrench my neck trying to examine three tiny spots with my defective eyes — eyes peering through faulty glasses because I lied about which lens looked better, A or B.
Worse, after each test, the true agony begins: waiting. Comparing the discomfort of being tested to the anguish of waiting for the results is like comparing a poke from a mosquito to a rattlesnake bite. Every second I wait, I know I have colon cancer or breast cancer or skin cancer or glaucoma or so many bad teeth I need dentures.
Not to mention stress and high blood pressure.
Sheridan’s book, “A Seasoned Life Lived in Small Towns,” is available in Craig at Downtown Books and Steamboat Springs at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore. She also blogs at http://www.auntbeulah.com on Tuesdays.
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