I need medical care and I'm too ashamed to go to the doctor.
May 18, 2013 5:43 AM   Subscribe

I need to go to the doctor, but intense shame is keeping me from seeking help.

How do I make myself get medical attention when I can barely acknowledge the problem to myself, let alone discuss it with the receptionist, write it out on the medical forms, talk to the doctor, undress and let them see my humiliating problem?

I need to go, but I just can't. Please help me get past this, it's making my life miserable.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (45 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
A good start would be telling us on here.
posted by BenPens at 5:50 AM on May 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Medical staff take their duty of confidentiality fairly seriously and they have, believe me, seen or heard everything, probably much worse than you have to show. I (UK) don't see why you have to discuss it with the receptionist beyond saying "it is very personal".
posted by epo at 5:58 AM on May 18, 2013

Agree with BenPens, but also, I promise you that whatever your condition is, it's not going to be a big deal to medical professionals. They've seen and heard about far worse.
posted by MexicanYenta at 5:59 AM on May 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ditto what benpens said. Also, try thinking of it as if you were advocating on someone else's behalf. State the facts as if they did not relate to you, as if you're describing something you read about or is happening to someone else. Also, remember that it's OK to be vague with everyone other than your doctor--I often tell people I have "a chronic pain issue" when I don't feel like talking about depression.
posted by Calicatt at 6:00 AM on May 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

Do you have a friend who can help you make the appointment? Maybe not, if you feel that concerned about sharing details. But if you do have a trusted friend, that can really help. A friend could even call and make the appointment for you.

You can just tell the receptionist that you have something you want to discuss with the doctor; you don't have to give details. Or you can say something that is sort-of true but innocuous. Like, if I were worried I had an STD and didn't want to say that to the receptionist, I might say, "I think I might have a urinary tract infection," or "I'm having some pain with urination," or something like that. Alternately, I might just lie until I was alone with the doctor. "I've had a cough for over a month, I just can't shake it." Usually the reason the receptionist needs to know what you're coming in for is to estimate how long an appointment you need, so another thing might be to just say, "I'd rather not say to anyone but the doctor, but I think we'll need some time for discussion," or something like that.

I once called about something I felt I didn't want to tell the receptionist, and when I asked her "why do you need to know what I'm coming in for?" she told me it was for estimating the length of appointment, and she was perfectly content when I said, "I've seen the doctor for this before, it's just a follow-up and I think it will be quick."

If you are uncomfortable talking to the nurse or the doctor once you're in the exam room, one option might be to write down what your concerns are. And then, when the nurse says, "What are you here for today?" you can say, "It makes me uncomfortable to talk about it, but I wrote it out," and hand her the paper.

If the nurse says, "OK, then, get changed into this gown and the doctor will be in in a moment," you can say, "I'd rather stay dressed until the doctor and I have talked," and she'll say, "OK."

You can say to the nurse, "I'm really uncomfortable sharing what's going on with me," and she and the doctor will be able to help you cope with that, by asking questions, doing things to make you feel more comfortable, whatever. You won't be the first nervous patient they've ever seen.

Sometimes when people are really nervous about seeing the dentist, the dentist prescribes a dose of xanax for them to take before their appointment. You could literally go in and say the first time, "I have something I need to get checked out, but I'm feeling very anxious and self-conscious about it," and raise the possibility of making another appointment for a day or two later, with a dose of xanax or something like it to calm you down. (At this point, I'm just brainstorming.)

Seconding, too, that whatever it is, they've seen it, and worse, before. And being honest about your anxiety about it will also allow them to help you get through it.

Good luck.
posted by not that girl at 6:04 AM on May 18, 2013 [38 favorites]

Also: whatever it is, it's nothing to be ashamed of! I promise you this. No matter what the condition is, how you acquired it, whether it's self-inflicted, or whatever--it is nothing to be ashamed of. And you deserve care for it.
posted by not that girl at 6:11 AM on May 18, 2013 [24 favorites]

Tell the scheduling person that you'd prefer to only discuss your issue with the physician. Or, just lie and say its something else. When you're alone with the doctor, tell them up front that you're feeling very embarrassed and anxious. A good doctor will do their best to make you feel comfortable.
posted by mattholomew at 6:26 AM on May 18, 2013

I guessing with the humiliation/embarrassment factor this might have to do with sexual health of some sort, or some other injury to your body that you might feel responsible for? If it's the first, try to remember that so many people experience medical issues of some sort around sex. Even the most knowledgeable and responsible people can run into sexual related medical issues. You don't have to feel guilty about it.

If it's the result of something you feel responsible for (I don't know: getting a tattoo in a back alley that is now infected, putting a crayon up your butt, whatever) try to remember that everybody makes mistakes and that it's ok to make mistakes. You doctor isn't there to judge you and probably doesn't have time for judging patients anyway.

Feel free to be vague with the receptionist. At the same time be clear and honest with your doctor, he or she can't help without knowing what's going on.
posted by donut_princess at 6:28 AM on May 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

The thing that kept me the sickest for the longest is the fact that somewhere in my head a switch got flipped, and my driving force went from "instinct to survive" to "instinct to not suffer" and for me, the self-centered, fear-fueled creature that I was, there was no greater harm than the emotional--that of rejection, loneliness, and what others thought of me.

If your condition has a name, there have been many thousands, if not millions, of people who have had it.

I once went to a doctor because I had contracted gout due to my excessive drinking. I told him that while I have a "few beers" every night, I had been eating a ton of shellfish recently. The reality was I had eaten little to no shellfish, but was chugging 2 liters of vodka nightly. I didn't want his judgement or to feel the shame in admitting my condition, so I lied. He prescribed me a medication which took weeks to resolve my gout. Shortly thereafter, when I arrived in an inpatient rehab facility, I had a bad recurrence of gout. They, however, knew the cause of my gout and gave me a different medication which cleared up my issue in days.

For your quality of life, and your actual happiness, there are few greater instances which require total honesty and no obfuscation than talking to a doctor, especially if you have a serious condition.

If it makes you feel better, drive to a Urgent Care 50 miles from your house. Pay in cash. (Down here in FL it's about $135 for the visit). But go. Honesty is freeing.

I am a 37 year old, who played dungeons and dragons till he was 33. I have struggled with bulimia at different points in my life. I used to drink a whole lot, so I have done hurtful things. I have stolen money from my mom, slept with people I shouldn't have, emotionally and sexually neglected significant others, I have been fired, arrested, crashed cars, and locked myself away with nothing but a bottle, some porno, and sex toys for days on end.

The above things are all facts about me, and they are what they are. I don't normally advertise them, but neither am I afraid of people finding out.

Be well, and get well.
posted by Debaser626 at 6:31 AM on May 18, 2013 [50 favorites]

I'm wondering if you have Googled whatever you have / think you have? I'm thinking the shame may be either that you think what you have is so unusual/horrifying they'll never have seen it before, or that it is somehow your fault. I bet if you search for it you will find forums or anecdotes from people who have been there. Knowing that other people have been in your position may help with your feelings of shame. You might also get some ideas of how other people handled getting medical attention or discussing it for the first time. And chances are you will find people with much worse stories than yours which may help put things into perspective.

Nthing that your doctor will have seen it before. The receptionist will have heard it before. There is nothing new under the sun. And you can say "it's private" until you're in the room. Good luck because notthatgirl is right - you deserve care.
posted by billiebee at 6:33 AM on May 18, 2013

No one spends thousand of dollars and years of their life in medical school because they thought it was going to be all adorable cherubic children with scraped knees needing tetnus shots. Your doctor wants to help you. Let them.
posted by Juliet Banana at 6:50 AM on May 18, 2013 [13 favorites]

Divide it into small steps. Lull yourself into a sense of tranquility and peace and calm and slip into the call like a warm bath.

Write a script. Make it as exact as you can: "Hi, this is Anonymous. I would like to schedule an appointment with Dr. Newhart. I am available on Monday mornings, Wednesday afternoons, and Tuesday and Thursday evenings. I would rather not discuss my issue with anyone but the doctor."

Then read it out. Don't call the doctor's office, just read the script. Edit it. Make it perfect.

Now that it's perfect, practice it. Get it down. Get the flow of words, the emphases, the pauses. Close your eyes if that helps. Go to a place you feel comfortable. You're not calling the doctor, you're just reading a script. Give it a dozen good read-throughs, then reward yourself with something small.

Now pick up the phone. Don't dial, just hold the phone like you normally would if you were making a call. You're not calling the doctor, you're just reading a script. Give it a dozen good read-throughs, then reward yourself with something small.

Now dial the number. You're not calling the doctor, you're just reading a script. Give it one good read-through. Don't let anyone interrupt you the first time. Give it another good read-through if you need to.

Now answer any questions they have. Write down when your appointment is. Reward yourself with something small. Call or email someone (MeMail me, if you need to) to tell them when your appointment is.

Self-plagiarizing here, but it still works.
posted by Etrigan at 7:05 AM on May 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

yeah, writing it down and handing it to the doctor is a good idea. I also advise you to make a point of talking to an experienced nurse or doctor, who will have seen all kinds of crazy/embarassing/shame-creating stuff and have a total immunity to it.

You can ask the person you're speaking with how long they have been practicing and you can specifically request someone more experienced, who might be a little more brusque but will be a lot less likely to indicate any kind of shock or surprise over anything you might have.

Once I had an allergic reaction to some vaginal cream, and my labia developed open, weeping lesions with peeling skin. He had to take a swab of one of the lesions and a nurse (a stranger I had never met), had to hold my hand while he did it- I was in way too much pain to be embarassed, even though the doctor gave me an antibiotic injection for a rare STI "just in case" (I told him I was abstinent), but trust me, they didn't act shocked, appalled, surprised, disapproving or anything like that. They just did the best job that they could to help me.

They have seen shit you can't even imagine. A guy that I know once had to go to the hospital because his girlfriend tore his foreskin while giving him a handjob. There is virtually nothing that you can throw their way that they haven't seen before and gotten over already.
posted by windykites at 7:16 AM on May 18, 2013

You can see another doctor if you don't feel comfortable talking to your current doc. There are STD clinics in every reasonably-sized town, and they are fierce about confidentiality, have seen an amazing variety of health conditions, and are skilled at helping you feel at ease talking about anything sexual. For any issue, you can tell a receptionist It's something personal, a short/medium/long visit is fine. Also, give yourself a break. No matter what your medical condition is, what it's related to, you're a person who needs medical care, and you deserve respect and dignity, and your health care provider will understand that. My favorite doctor is a wicked practical joker, and we got along great, but when I shared any serious concern, the joking was gone, and the sincerity and care was evident. I wish he took my current insurance.
posted by theora55 at 7:17 AM on May 18, 2013

Remember that, unlike lots of other people, doctors are not there to judge. They are there to help and advise.

Yes, it is embarrassing and anxiety-inducing to say something that we are ashamed of. But remember- just because we feel anxiety doesn't mean we are doing the wrong thing. Making that appointment is the first step in getting back right with yourself. It feels good to get problems taken care of, even if it also feels bad.

Another thing that helps me is to turn off my own emotions and self judgement. When faced with something I feel like I don't want to do, I make the decision as if I am making it for someone else. "What is the right thing to do in this situation?" is what I ask myself. Once I rationally decide the right course of action, it becomes easier to take my own advice. But I have to have that little conversation with myself for it to work.
posted by gjc at 7:33 AM on May 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

I don't know if this would help or make things harder but in many areas there are dial-a-nurse services available. They're often run by public health authorities or by insurance companies and you can call and talk to a nurse about the problem you're having and while they won't diagnose you, they will triage the problem and tell you if you should go to an ER, a doctor today, a doctor when you have time, etc. Even if you already know that you need to see a doctor, calling up a health professional and telling them about your issue, and having them respond with caring and no shaming might help make it easier to have that conversation face-to-face.

If even that seems big and scary, maybe try looking up an internet forum that specializes in whatever type of problem you have and go there and read about other people's experiences and post to describe your own. That's a little less guaranteed to be judgement free, but it might help you get the sense that this is something that other people are talking about in a relatively low judgement environment.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:34 AM on May 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Focus on the trade-off, not the embarrassment - No matter how embarrassing it is, you are trading that embarrassment for relief of your ailment, no longer having to worry about the issue once it's treated, and knowing you never have to interact with that doctor again if you choose not to.

Please take care of yourself. It's what we deserve even when it's humiliating. And I think we all have felt some level of humiliation at the doctor at one point or another.

For every story you hear about someone ending up in the ER with a foreign body stuck someplace private or an embarrassing injury resulting from something they now wish to god they hasn't done, you also have someone who is no longer suffering because they asked for help.
posted by cecic at 7:50 AM on May 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'd invent a name for it to use on forms, say to the receptionist, etc. Such as "rash in the groin area" -- it's vague, they're not going to ask you for details, nobody but the nurse and doctor is going to be able to see it, etc. Then when the moment of truth arrives, you just show them. Seriously, they have seen worse. The shame you are feeling is just a story in your head.
posted by selfmedicating at 8:11 AM on May 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Maybe it will help if you realize that nurses have seen about everything. One of my students in a nursing program told me the other day that a woman she was treating was having explosive diarrhea -- like, hit the curtains explosive, I am serious -- and this nurse was needing to deal with episodes of it going all over her, the nurse.

This nurse was completely like, yeah, the body does that sometimes.
posted by angrycat at 8:13 AM on May 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

For several generations, most people in my family, except me, became physicians. When we get together, they talk shop and naturally the weird situations get the most attention. But... 1) they never reveal any identifying details about their patients' identities, even though they practice thousands of miles apart from each other and are family. 2) they never make fun of the people at all, instead focusing on the symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and outcomes, all with compassion.

Re the advice above regarding a script, you could also pretend to be making the call on your behalf, e.g., "Hello, I'm calling on behalf of [Anonymous] to make an appointment with Dr. Kildare. No, I'm not sure of the details of Anonymous' situation, but s/he would like an appointment [whenever] and thinks it will be a [duration] examination." If a question comes up that you think should be answered, you can put the receptionist on hold for a moment while you "find out" and use that time to figure out what you want to say. Good luck, and please get the help you need.
posted by carmicha at 8:37 AM on May 18, 2013

I work in medicine and there is quite frankly nothing at this point that I have not already seen or heard and I have only been doing this for about five years. I can't speak for every clinician but being able to objectively and nonjudgmentally deal with situations is part of our everyday job description. Believe me, you are way more embarrassed by this than the clinician you will see, who will likely have seen something at some point in his/her career much more "embarrassing" than whatever it is you are dealing with now.
posted by teamnap at 8:44 AM on May 18, 2013

I get it, I had it for a while, altough in my case it was mental, but not really easy.
I actually also started out by writing out my problems on metafilter, which helped immensely because I had to word them, as before I didnt do that.

Try here first, and if it's serious, don't waste anytime and get to your doctor. Some conditions are simply embarrassing, others are embarrasing but will benefit from early treatment.

Go for it.
posted by ahtlast93 at 8:55 AM on May 18, 2013

You're an adult. Start acting like it and get your ass to the doctor.

My dad died of colon cancer because he didn't want to face it. He could've gone to the doc when he suspected something was up, but he didn't. No one could force him to go. By the time the symptoms were obvious even to himself and everyone else, it was way too late.

Alternately, a friend of mine had a simple case of something 'down there' that could have been cleaned up with a 5 minute doc visit. Instead he put his head in the sand and ended up ignoring the issue - until the issue was so far progressed that he needed surgery.

Point is... quit being a child. You think you're embarrassed now? Wait and see how you feel after you're either a) coming up with excuses to others why you have to have surgery or are worse b) dead.
posted by matty at 9:03 AM on May 18, 2013 [6 favorites]

I would seriously consider adding the condition or problem to this question and seeing what Metafilter has to say about it. With all my years of reading Ask, there are very few conditions that someone on Metafilter hasn't had or knows someone who has. The unknown is what feeds the fear and having someone say, "Oh I had that and my exam went like this ______" or "Totally no big deal, this is treatment I had" or even "You could even try this over-the counter treatment before seeing the doctor" might really ease your mind. You're anonymous here, there are lots of folks with LOTS of different experiences, saying it out loud (or in print) might be very helpful to you. Good luck and all will be well.
posted by SweetTeaAndABiscuit at 9:06 AM on May 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

You might want to track down some episodes of the UK Channel 4 series Embarrassing Bodies. This consists of real patients going to the doctor to talk about embarrassing illnesses. This might give you some idea of how thoughtfully and sensitively doctors deal with such issues, and what a consultation about such an issue might be like.
posted by Jabberwocky at 9:20 AM on May 18, 2013

Sorry to be very practical here, but I just realized the other day that some doctors have moved their appointment scheduling online, using a service like ZocDoc. At least that would remove the need to discuss your condition with a receptionist? If something like that is available in your region...
posted by yonglin at 9:51 AM on May 18, 2013

Doctors don't become doctors because they are squeamish, or because they like to laugh at people behind their backs. Doctors become doctors because they are deeply motivated to help people get better. Doctors love to treat sick people; they've trained for it for the better part of a decade at a minimum.

I have seen doctors in some awfully damn embarrassing circumstances. Embarrassing enough that I don't want to share them here. If you memail me -- or if you contact me at the email address in my profile from a throwaway address, if you want to maintain anonymity -- I will tell you of all the times that care providers have treated me sensitively and compassionately when I couldn't even look them in the eye.
posted by KathrynT at 10:38 AM on May 18, 2013

Repeating what everyone has said about doctors having seen and heard it all. I've had quite a number of embarrassing, undignified medical experiences, mostly related to the usual suspects: arse and genitals, you know. I've always found it can help if you see the funny side and even crack a joke or two. Because having a doctor poke around your business - especially if it's doing something disgusting - actually can be sort-of funny if you just change your angle of view slightly.

I read a funny link a while back that had some guy live tweeting his visit to the ER to get a dildo removed from his arse. The humour and sang-froid he showed was positively inspirational.
posted by Decani at 10:52 AM on May 18, 2013

There is no medical condition on earth that warrants shame.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 11:00 AM on May 18, 2013 [12 favorites]

It's making your life miserable, and you must deal with it. You're asking us here, surely, because we'll tell you exactly this. Acknowledge the problem to yourself and get it over with. Please. Others have given good advice for telling only as much as you have to to everyone who isn't the doctor. Then tell the doctor. Be calm, and be practical. Good luck.
posted by tomboko at 11:27 AM on May 18, 2013

If you told us what it was, we could probably talk you down from an overreaction. Some people have come to Metafilter and said "I'm so ashamed to tell a receptionist or doctor (something specific that was never embarrassing at all)."

First of all, you don't need to tell the receptionist anything specific whatsoever. She just wants to know what kind of visit it is -- is it a sick visit, an emergency visit, a visit to get renewed prescriptions, a visit to go over blood work, etc.? She only needs to know generally enough to schedule your appointment with enough time and with the right person.

Second, doctors have seen it all. People stick weird things in weird parts of their bodies and they go to doctors and doctors help them. And why do they go to doctors? Because what's more embarrassing, having a doctor see that you stuck a GI Joe action figure in your butt, or dying and having everyone know you died because you stuck a GI Joe in your butt? I think seeing a doctor is far less embarrassing than the alternative consequences of not going to a doctor.

You'll get through it. Once you go, you can stop worrying.
posted by AppleTurnover at 11:43 AM on May 18, 2013

I am a cynical, sarcastic, judgemental fuck of a person, but when I walk into the exam room as someone's doctor, there is a "professionalism and compassion" circuit that I flip on. Everything said in the exam room is confidential under very heavy penalty of law. You do not need to tell the receptionist or nurse anything at all and this actually happens all the time. "It's really personal and I'd rather not say" is just fine.

It is true, we have heard it all. Or maybe not *all* but enough to not ever be shocked. I had a woman tell me she had murdered her husband, and not one, but two people with compulsions to eat their own shit as a result of childhood abuse.

I will tell you, try not to dance around the issue once the provider enters the room. You're not doing yourself any good mentioning the *real* reason you made the appointment 28 minutes into a 30 minute appointment. This happens all the time too, and you know what? As frustrating as it is, that's still ok too.

Feel free to Memail me if you want to know how a doctor might react to your specific situation.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 1:23 PM on May 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Also, anonymous, can you email a mod to clarify: is it that you have a problem that you think is horrible and shocking, or is it that you have a crippling fear of doctors generally? Maybe we are all misinterpreting the question.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 1:27 PM on May 18, 2013

Mod note: From the OP:
I deliberately chose not to get into specifics of the medical issue so I could avoid discussion of whether it’s a thing worth getting embarrassed over. The reality is I am to phobic levels of revealing it. I know it’s irrational, and even though I’d rather walk in front of a bus than discuss it with anyone, I have to anyway. Just writing this is giving me a panic attack.
That’s the thing I need help with.

So far, the most useful answers are xanex, traveling far from anyone I know, and being honest about the anxiety.

I know the shame is part of a much larger issue of self-loathing that’s ruining my life in alot of ways and if anyone knows how to short circuit that and take care of myself anyway I need to hear it. Thank you for listening.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 1:30 PM on May 18, 2013

or is it that you have a crippling fear of doctors generally? Maybe we are all misinterpreting the question.

I was just about to ask this.

OP, As someone who has a life-long fear of doctors and dentists, I spent a YEAR practicing my script for how I would ask my GP for anxiety meds (I was too intimidated to even consider a psychiatrist.) I finally called, and got the appointment. I started sobbing as soon as the doctor asked me why I was there. But within 15 minutes she had heard my story, written the script, and given me several hugs (sweet little old Asian lady doctor, she was VERY reassuring.) This was several years back and I got the impression that it was pretty routine for her to have someone 1)cry and 2)be really scared.

Are you female? It's OK to ask for a female doctor. Hell - my sister went to the pediatrician until she got pregnant with her own child - she has the same fear I do, I think it's where I got it. It's OK to be cagey with the receptionist, as mentioned several times. Lots of people are afraid, you are very very vulnerable when ill, even if you get to stay fully dressed for the appointment.

Good luck. Xanax. And it's OK to tell the doc that you are very anxious.
posted by polly_dactyl at 1:40 PM on May 18, 2013

:( Do what makes you feel safest, OP. I hope you are able to get access to the care that you need, and that in time your feelings of shame abate enough so you can live without self-loathing and anxiety.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 1:41 PM on May 18, 2013

I know the shame is part of a much larger issue of self-loathing that’s ruining my life in alot of ways and if anyone knows how to short circuit that and take care of myself anyway I need to hear it.

Please spend 25 min listening to this Brene Brown talk on shame. It will help. Best of luck.
posted by Kerasia at 2:00 PM on May 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Order The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook online and work through some of the exercises at home.
posted by Ouisch at 2:19 PM on May 18, 2013

Could you get a friend to call and make an appointment for you? Or would that be worse? How about taking a mild sedative (or having a beer) before calling/going in? Or what about a totally online doctor visit with something like zoomcare.com? That way you could make the appointment online, do it in the privacy of your house, and you'd only ever have to talk with the medic.

Another technique: Write out your fears about this event. Read the paragraph out loud and gauge your anxiety and stress level. Then keep re-reading it out loud until your anxiety becomes only a 5 out of 10. (Only do this if you can handle it; if you think reading it out loud is going to give you an actual panic attack then maybe you should go first to a therapist and then to the doctor.)
posted by feets at 9:39 PM on May 18, 2013

Suggestion for when you call to make the appointment: just tell the person the vaguest version of (your issue) that you can. They don't need details, only the doctor does. So I think you can rest a little easier knowing that the only the doctor needs to know the specifics, and (as others have said) doctors have seen and heard it all.
posted by FlyByDay at 9:49 PM on May 18, 2013

I've been there, OP. Here's my story: Some years ago I had some fillings come out of my teeth, and for a number of reasons I did not go to the dentist. This progressed to the point where several of my teeth were really quite rotten. I felt a huge amount of anxiety and shame about this.

It seemed to me that there were an enormous number of obstacles to me getting my teeth fixed - I needed to have health insurance and/or the money, I needed to find a place and make an appointment, I needed to get the day off work... but the biggest obstacle was that I would have to show a trained professional my mouth and I felt sure they would castigate me for staying away so long.

I told my sister about my fear, so she helped me find a dentist. I made a script, and I rehearsed what I was going to say before I called to make an appointment. As soon as I had an appointment I felt hugely relieved, because I knew things were going to get better soon.

When the time came and I saw the dentist, I explained that I was very anxious because I had not been to the dentist in many years, and I knew that things had gone quite wrong in my mouth, and I wanted to get them fixed please. The dentist picked up on how upset I was, and he understood that there were a number of factors that had kept me from seeing a dentist for so long. My teeth are fine now, and I don't feel scared about going to the dentist these days.

I agree with many of the suggestions above, about making a script, and calling. The receptionist doesn't need to know the problem, all they need to know is that you want a checkup. If you're writing on forms, you can just write 'rash' or 'infection' or 'foreign body'.

The anxiety and shame you are feeling is not so uncommon. You can tell the doctor that you have a problem, you're very scared, and you are so ashamed of it you find it difficult to even say what the problem is. My experience suggests that medical professionals will respond to that. They will help you. If they don't, you are fully within your rights to say a nasty thing and leave, although I know that doesn't really feel like an option.

One other thing that I find helps me deal with new professionals: I like to think of the first consultation as me auditioning them. This way I feel much less anxious when I sit down with a new hairdresser or doctor, because I'm thinking about whether I like what they're doing and whether they'll get my business ever again, rather than freaking out about whether they're judging me. So perhaps you could try to think of this as you auditioning a new doctor, to see if they're someone you'd continue giving business to in the future.
posted by escapepod at 2:00 AM on May 19, 2013

A non-trivial number of clinic one-liners I see are "has concerns" or "wants to talk to MD", so that's one step you can skip. I have been one of those people when I was making an appointment for my butt-related problem while a coworker walked into my office to chat.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 9:02 AM on May 19, 2013

You don't actually have to write it down or tell the receptionist. If they ask just say you want to discuss with the doctor directly. If they don't take no for an answer find another doctor.

Also, it may be worth it to go to a psychiatrist for the sole purpose of getting a referral. You can tell the psychiatrist your issue and then ask the psychiatrist refer you to a doctor and apprise the doctor in advance of the situation. By situation this could merely be the generally parameters that you outline above or it could be the specific physical issue you are seeking treatment for. You should plan to go to the psychiatrist several times and deal with talking about it incrementally. This way you can make the first appointment without the weight of having to fully disclose. After you go a few times (and possibly with the help of medication) you can find a solution with the psychiatrist. You might feel better being treated by a doctor that has already been told in advance by someone else, so you don't have to witness the doctor's reaction (and by this I mean your perceived reaction, not the doctor's likely reaction) to your medical issue.
posted by whoaali at 11:57 AM on May 19, 2013

Also: You might like to read about the guy Decani was talking about, who got a dildo stuck up his butt and livetweeted it. The story (with Storify of the tweets) is here.

After reading that twitter feed, I asked my friend who's an ER doctor, and she said that it really does liven up their shifts when someone comes in with an unusual problem, even an embarrassing one like that. They train for years and years, and they like to be able to use their skills to help people with problems more complex than a sniffle or a broken bone.
posted by escapepod at 3:05 AM on May 20, 2013

Where are you? Perhaps people in your city will be able to recommend particularly patient and comforting doctors.
posted by prefpara at 11:38 AM on May 20, 2013

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