Friday, September 12, 2014

On Pedaling to the Doctor: a Rural Cyclist's Predicament

A couple of years ago I was chatting to a cyclist who lived car free in an out of the way suburb, and I asked what he found challenging about getting around by bike. Interestingly, it was not his daily 20 mile commute to work. This he happily combined with training, cycling in lycra and changing at his office building's gym and shower facilities. Neither was it his 12 mile grocery/ hardware store run. To accomplish that, he hitched a trailer to his roadbike every Saturday morning and stocked up for the week. What he did find tricky, he said, was visiting the doctor. "How do you mean?" I asked. "Oh you know," he chuckled, now slightly embarrassed, "I hate to arrive for a check-up with that not so fresh feeling..."


At the time I had not given his words much consideration. But they came back to me on the day of my first doctor's appointment since having moved to a rural area. Faced with an 11 mile ride to the hospital along exposed country roads in windy conditions, I found myself uneasy about the state I'd be in upon arrival.

While not everyone will admit this openly, the truth is that we tend to "primp" before a doctor's appointment. In fact, a casual survey of my friends revealed that most have elaborate pre-doctor visit rituals that can rival any romantic date prep. At the very least, we want to be clean - ideally, freshly showered and wearing recently laundered clothing. We make sure to put on our "good" underwear and socks, not the stretched-out, hole-ridden rags we might normally wear when we think no one will see. For women, it is not uncommon to shave or wax before a doctor's appointment, at times more thoroughly than for a holiday in Ipanema. To make liberal use of scented lotions is considered by some de rigueur.

Don't get me wrong, it's not that we want to appeal to our doctors. It's more that we don't want to disgust them. At no other time does our personal hygiene seem under greater scrutiny than when our bodies are prodded and examined under glaring lights by a member of the medical profession (or more likely, by entire groups of them, with crowds of eager medical students gathered around as the doctor cheerfully points to some private part of our anatomy and we lie there, rendered docile and mute by the shock of the intrusion). And sure, they've probably seen it all. But somehow we still feel that our bodies have the power to revolt them, unless scrubbed clean and presentably packaged.

As the wind howled outside at 25mph, I considered my transportation options. I could make it easier on myself and ride my roadbike. But then I'd have to wear the shoes and the padded shorts. I'd arrive looking and smelling like a sweaty cyclist, presenting with CCS (Crumpled Crotch Syndrome). The alternative was to ride an upright bike in my everyday clothes. But that would take longer and feel tedious, and I'd probably still arrive sweaty. In a moment of desperation, I considered the bus. But there is no direct route to the hospital from my house, and the thought of spending half a day on bus transfers filled me with horror - which proved a rather effective means of resolving my indecision. For heaven's sake, it's only 11 miles. I put on clean clothes, grabbed a packet of tea tree oil wipes, got on my folding bike and took my time pedaling into the wind. Upon arrival, I darted for the bathroom and gave myself a zealous wipe-down before plopping into a chair in the waiting room.

If I displayed any signs of uncleanliness, the doctor did not let on. But he did scrutinise my face with mild concern. "And how long have you been troubled by that patchy redness?" For a moment, I panicked, imagining myself stricken with some terrible skin disease. Then I remembered: I'd been riding my bicycle.

28 comments:

  1. It is for these trips that you use the bicycle upon which you have mounted an electric motor and battery. The easiest is a front mount wheel that takes the sweat off the ride and can be swapped back to a normal wheel in a matter of minutes. The best motor is a mid-mount motor (currently the Bafang BBS-01 is the one designed for retrofit) that replaces the bottom bracket so pedaling gets an assist, but that is more permanently installed, which means it's part of the stable (another bike in the shed).

    Most pre-made ebikes are too expensive, and not very good bike frames. My personal favorite is conversion of an old English 3-speed where the bottom bracket is stuffed but not rare enough to be worth restoring. Usually the spokes and hubs are also needing replacement, so I install S.A. brake hubs with the front generator. The motor is enough to change the game especially going up hills and in fierce winds.

    At 250W, you are still pedaling, only on arrival you find you dismount as a normal civilian without wet patches on the clothes. Distance is determined by how much you rely on the motor (I switch it to zero until I need it) and how big a battery you buy.

    In past posts I read that you have not been interested, but as time passes, who knows? Maybe it will something else you decide to try out. Next doctor's visit you can arrive fresh as a daisy and smelling as sweet.

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  2. Interestingly, 11 miles is pretty much my distance to work everyday. From my experience, you should just give yourself some extra time and ride slowly on your upright bike and do not overdress. It's even better to be cool (maybe a bit cold) than too warm. This way you will not sweat much.

    What I don't understand though is why so many cyclists think they "have to wear (...) the padded shorts" when riding their road bikes for transport? Do those 11 miles really require padded shorts? I guess not. Does your Selle An-Atomica saddle is so uncomfortable that you can't ride on it without padded shorts? I guess not. So what is it? I cycled on my road bike for transport wearing regular clothing successfully. Yet every day on Minuteman Bikeway in Lexington I see morning commuters wearing full lycra kits with backpacks on their backs, going to work. I guess they don't want to spoil the looks of their carbon bikes by wearing "inappropriate" clothing. Yes, that must be it.

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    1. Some people sweat more than others.

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    2. I hate the way I look in padded shorts, but on a narrow road saddle, in the road position it is more comfortable to wear them - yes even over 22 miles.

      As for the people on the Minuteman Trail - consider the possibility that the trail itself may only be the start of their commute. And who are we to judge anyway.

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    3. Well designed, properly-fitting bIke shorts don't have ill-positioned seams, and don't bunch or wrinkle in the wrong places. A little abrasion may not be a problem for some, but there are wide variations of skin types.

      I clean up with wet wipes, at a minimum, before I get on a bike and after I get off, and wear bike shorts almost 100% of the time that I ride, including 4 mile round trips to the store. I'm usually wearing some sort of street clothes for errands, and use bike shorts as underwear. I also use chamois cream for any ride over 25 miles or so.

      This regimen is the result of research aimed at lessening the frequency and severity of saddle sores, which previously plagued me.

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    4. We're humans, not saints, we always judge.

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  3. great observation about getting "primped" and putting on your best underwear before seeing the doc. rofl as a nurse, you see a lot before you even finish nursing school. but as someone once said to me, "you may have seen everything, but you haven't seen My everything."

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  4. This post reminded me of my last physical. I rode my Raleigh 3-speed to the doctor's office and parked it in the rack right in front of the clinic. When the doctor finally came in to see me, he asked me if I exercise regularly. I told him I ride my bike whenever I can and that I actually rode it to the appointment. His eyes lit up and he asked if that was my Raleigh parked out in front. I told him it was. He had one just like it as a teenager and was admiring it from the window in his office.

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  5. The medical clinic is a 5km ride away, not far, but I do understand a bit. However, since doctors rarely do anything I am not sure what the concern is. Generally I go and they barely listen, tell me I am fine and my 5 seconds is up. I'd have to have something actually scheduled that involves removal of clothes etc to be self conscious. Are we talking about physicals, lady things? Because doctors where I live do not do annual physicals, you have to be nearly dead before they will look at you or schedule tests.
    I might apologize for being sweaty and say I just biked here, usually they are very happy and will say good for you etc. I usually get congratulated on my lovely blood pressure and heart rate stuff.
    Remember doctors do all that interning stuff in ER where they see people at their worst, people coming in for emergencies who have not had time to go to the bloody spa first.
    For such occasions doctor or job interviews etc, I may bring extra clothes, or make good use of paper towels in the washrooms...

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  6. Eliminating the car is an idea I toy with every now and then and I would love to be able to do. But I think reality dictates otherwise. Whether we like it or not, life in US is designed around cars. Moving family safely from point A to B is one concern, since you know, there is practically no public transportation to speak of, much less safe bike routes everywhere. So I commute by bike everyday and try not to worry about occasional driving to other places.

    I do admire, though, those who adopt a completely car free lifestyle.

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    1. Yes, life is also designed around cars here in Australia - I don't drive and use my bike for transportation, shopping etc but my lifestyle and where I live supports this choice. Those living in suburbs, who work at some distance, who have family to transport, may not have that option. The reality is that cars and the infrastructure to support them, dominates our cities and towns and thereby often dictates how we commute.

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  7. It helps if your doctor's surgery isn't at the top of a Category 3 climb (in the Tour of Britain at least) like mine is! I have to admit I've never given the matter of preparing for the doctor a minute's thought, even for a smear test (I'm feeling a bit paranoid now) but I do build in 15 minutes cool-down time to allow my blood pressure to return to normal.

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  8. No bicycle involved that I can tell but this is my pal Amelie singing about her doctor and and getting well "primped " http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M3CuYX6ADf4

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  9. Until you've removed an uneaten pork chop from the layers of a patients "flank fat".......

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  10. My doctor is thirteen miles from the house and, thankfully at 58, I rarely visit. When I do, however, it's for something in bad need of attention and freaking me out, which means the ride can sometimes be difficult, but I've no other choice. Actually, it's the ride back for a follow-up visit which annoy's me the most. Twenty six miles for the doc to say 'all's good, take care'….:(

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  11. I'm proud to ride a bike instead of driving a car. It's the people who drive who should be self conscious.

    Sweating is part of riding a bike; thinking that you shouldn't show up somewhere sweaty is akin to having your feet bound at birth, to signify that your status requires that you perform no labor. In both cases, you are crippled as a result (admittedly, not in the same way nor to the same degree) :).

    If I'm clean when I leave the house, I'm going to be damp, but not smelly, after riding 12 miles to the doctor's office.

    I usually duck into the restroom and dry off my face and (shaved) head when I arrive at the doctor's/dentist's office. I'll continue to sweat while I'm there, until I cool down, and the back of my shirt and my shorts may be damp, but so what?

    In my case, both my doctor and my dentist are avid bicyclists, but even if they were not, I'd be happy to let them know that I rode to the appointment.

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    1. Well said - the staff and dentist at my own clinic congratulated me on riding a bike - as I do it all the time I consider it normal and felt a little embarrassed at the attention.

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  12. Sorry, but this is not exclusive to rural cyclists.

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  13. OMG, I'm totally laughing my ass off. I seriously considered biking to my last appointment, but I was seeing the doctor about an... um... feminine issue and I just couldn't bring myself to do it. So I caved and drove my car.

    As it turned out I had to wait an hour or so for some test results and by the time I headed home it was pouring buckets of rain with lightening, thunder, howling wind and giant hail. Saved by my vanity! :-)

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  14. I can't remember the last time I drove to the doctor or dentist for an appointment, but they're anywhere from 2-6 miles away. I don't sweat much, so I was more concerned about whether my blood pressure or heart rate would measure off from normal so I was happy that I arrived a little early and they were a little late.

    Once I did have to ask the doctor if it was OK to ride home after having a small cyst removed from my palm, and another time when the dentist replaced a filling. They both said it would be OK and it was.

    My general practice doctor is very supportive of my bicycling everywhere, even when I've had stitches for a crash on a mountain bike ride. Her attitude is that it's easier to fix the minor things than treat me for diseases related to a sedentary lifestyle like diabetes and heart disease.

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  15. I'm curious about who this person was and where he lived. Twelve miles from a grocery store is rare.

    When one decides to go car free there are always hurdles which present themselves, practically or socially, as uncomfortable. It's part of the deal and we each march forward and try not to worry about what others think.

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  16. I ride to the hospital every fortnight for an infusion treatment. It's not that far but there's a big hill, so I always arrive sweaty, which makes it difficult for the line to be taped to my skin, it keeps falling off! I feel as though so should be apologetic about it, and sometimes I am, but really, as others have said above, it's better to be active and get those health benefits. We shouldn't have to be apologetic about these things. There would have been a time when nearly everyone rode or walked to such appointments.

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  17. Place or distance is only one issue. In the heat and humidity of where I live cycling a mile or two to a doctor is what it is….You're going to arrive sweaty and my take is who cares. It's part of being human and if doctors/nurses don't get it, it's a sad state.

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    1. Exactly - the medical profession is there to deal with all manner of 'body' issues - the least serious of which are surely the manifestations of physical activity.

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  18. My Doc is a cyclist,,,he understands !!

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  19. Health care professionals are very grateful for the consideration when a person comes in clean. While there will be acceptance of whatever body issues there may be, there is also the next patient who will enter the clinic room after a person reeking of body odour - if there is a window to open to freshen the room, great, if not...

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  20. Personal opinion from a doc-there's room for a happy medium in this...too much perfume can be just as challenging as other odors, though basic hygiene is always good. As a group, by the time docs get through training, it takes a big variance to make us think about it either way. Most people-even those coming from workouts or bike rides-truly fall into "the vast range of normal" as far as hygiene, body hair "landscaping", body modification, etc. I find patients sometimes apologize or sadly note things that I never would have noticed or would have thought normal (ex-hands sweaty from nervous about finding out results-this is normal). Just have sympathy when the doc herself has helmet hair/ponytail instead of a perfect style. ;-)

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  21. Heh, my last doctor wasn't impressed by the bike. She said she'd prefer me to go to the gym instead and take the bus to work if I didn't drive. But that's Maryland for you. All the density of a city, all the bike-unfriendliness of a suburb.

    I have never "primped" for a doctor. I'm sure they've seen much worse than the likes of me.

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