Checking in with the doctor
In the very early stages of ManSpace Magazine, we sat down to map out exactly what sort of content we wanted in our new title. Our publisher, Jeff Patchell, said he thought it would be good to have a dedicated men’s health section – not particularly big, but a regular section for every issue. It had to be genuine health though – not ‘how to get better abs in six weeks’ or ‘eight exercises for your biceps that you can do at home’… just real, health issues that affect men.
It sounded like a great idea, but I’ll be honest and say that I wasn’t quite sure how we would do it. We’re not doctors… clearly… and no one wants to go through a mini-medical degree of research every time we plan to provide useful information.
Then Jeff stumbled across a pamphlet written by Dr Bernie Crimmins and it struck a chord. Bernie had written a great book about male health and it was seriously impressive. There was something about the writing, the manner, the philosophy and the approach – so we made an enquiry.
Let me also throw in here that starting a slightly different publication from scratch is no mean feat, and asking people to be involved with a concept – rather than an existing product with history – can be difficult.
Yet somehow, Dr Bernie agreed to be involved and he is, without question, one of the great assets of this publication.
For those who aren’t familiar, Bernie is something of a champion of men’s health. It should be noted that he is currently a general practitioner who treats both males and females, but there has long been a drive to push men’s health issues to the fore.
The Bloke’s Health books are proof enough. They are a collaboration between Bernie and his good mate Harv (Paul Harvey – also featured in ManSpace Magazine in Issue 3, 2012 for his illustration work) that manage to provide enough information for men to get a handle on the issue yet not send them into a panic of self-diagnoses! It is also worth noting – because neither Bernie nor Paul would say it themselves – that these books are not done for financial gain: there is no real profit from something like this and they have priced it to be affordable. Their motivation is, quite simply, honourable.
As the second issue of Bloke’s Health (creatively titled, Bloke’s Health 2) is about to hit the shelves, I sat down with Bernie for a chat over coffee.
Let’s go back a little bit – did you always want to be a doctor?
Truthfully… it was effectively a last minute decision to do medicine. I’d always been interested in science so was looking at studying that at university, but then I managed to get the marks for medicine so I changed my selection.
And when you made that change, did you go in with an idea that men’s health was something you were interested in?
I can’t say I set out with that view. There are various moments or motivations in life, but a lot of it is a gradual build.
I was one of five boys in my own family and have three boys of my own. I’m a male doctor and my brother died of a male-only disease.
I’ve been involved with male dominated organisations like football clubs and cricket clubs and worked specifically with the Hawthorn Football Club as the club doctor for 15 years.
Even now, I’m very involved with the Bald Eagles (an over 35s Australian Rules Football Team in the Victorian Metropolitan Superules Competition) – and this is again a male dominated group that is almost a men’s health club in its own right.
So I suppose that if you see the same issues on such a regular basis you do develop a good understanding of what the real causes are and where men need to be encouraged.
We should mention your brother Peter. For those who don’t know, he was captain of the Hawthorn Football Club when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer, tragically passing away at only 28 years of age. That must have had considerable impact both personally and professionally.
Peter was a good eight years older than me, so I was actually only in my second year of medical school when he died. As I said before, I certainly didn’t make a conscious decision to look further into men’s health because of that, but it did get me thinking a lot more. There is no doubt that Peter’s story has some similarities to many other men and that has an impact.
So how did the Bloke’s Health books come about?
I was asked to do a talk on men’s health at Marcellin College one day and Paul Harvey was also there. I’d known Harv previously so we were having a chat afterwards and he suggested doing a book together. He’d been involved with other books before, so basically pitched to me that I already had my PowerPoint presentation as a basis, and from there I needed to fill it out with more detail and then Harv would inject some humour with his cartoons. That’s sort of how it all started. He thought it would be a good idea and I guess he’s proven to be correct.
Is men’s health improving?
Definitely – at the very least there is greater awareness throughout the population. There’s a bit of a trend to suggest that men don’t go to the doctor often enough or that they try to avoid it, but men also don’t get the reminders. Maybe the system needs to be a little more ‘male friendly’.
When you think about it, women are generally very good, and well-versed, at making appointments. Women will ring up without a thought and book a hair appointment and then cancel it and re-book if they have to, while men tend to let it go as long as possible. It means that women are generally much better at organising their time to fit these appointments.
Then you should consider that many of the regular checks for women have reminder services – paid for by the government – plus the fact that they will talk more openly and encourage each other to go.
Men, on the other hand, are not so great at making appointments, they don’t manage their time nearly as well in that sense, they don’t talk so openly and don’t have reminder services… so, when you consider all of that, then I don’t think it’s fair for people to say they’re disappointed in the numbers of men going to their doctor regularly.
It would be interesting to know the percentage of females who didn’t go for regular checks if there wasn’t a reminder system.
What about the thought that men would rather put their head in the sand and pretend that nothing is wrong?
It’s interesting to look at how men and women differ when they get in the doctor’s room. I went to a talk recently and they had done research that said that when in a medical consultation, women will ask, on average, four questions – while the male average is barely a fraction over zero questions. That is a concern.
So while there is the perception that men would rather not know what is going on, I believe they do want to know but just aren’t very good at asking.
For me, that is the great thing about Bloke’s Health. You’ve provided information in an accessible manner to get men thinking and hopefully promote a conversation with their doctor.
The main aim was to help blokes take control of the most important thing in their life, their health. I didn’t want to end up with a big daunting book that most blokes wouldn’t read; I think it’s important to keep it fairly simple and to the point. I think the work from my footballing mate, Harv, in adding the touch of humour is also important.
The purpose of all of these books is to give guys the basic information to make a decision about getting a check-up done if a problem or a concern arises.
Is there a Bloke’s Health 3 on the cards?
Absolutely – I’ve already started the third edition and hope to have it out fairly soon. A lot of it will be based around bloke’s food as guys tend to eat a little bit different to females – if they’re allowed to…
One of my patients, who is an excellent chef, will do some recipes for me and we can explain not just how to cook some good, simple food, but also why you need it and how it works with your body.