I wrote this column more than ten years ago, when estrogen was The Big Thing for women of a certain age. Now of course, We Know Better. Still, it’s one of my favorite columns, so I’m posting it here.
by Cathy Corcoran
I’m on my way to see a new gynecologist. It is an unnerving experience.
The last gynecologist I really liked delivered my daughter nearly ten years ago. But we changed insurance companies, and he isn’t covered by our new plan. I’ve been through three gynecologists since Doctor D., each of them deficient in some way.
The surgeon wanted to operate on everything. The nurse practitioner moved to Maine. The woman doctor in Boston turned out to be as bad as the worst of the men I’ve met - brusque, hurried, arrogant, irritable if I raised a question. This new doctor has come highly recommended, but still, I’m nervous.
As I drive to my appointment, I pray that this new doctor will be not only a good physician, he will also be a good person, someone who will treat me as a human being, not just a collection of body parts. I’ll talk to him about my body, my mind and my emotions. He will help me to use my own healing powers to continue to live a long healthy life.
That’s what I pray as I drive, but by the time I pull into his parking lot, I’m into divine plea bargaining. “O.K., God. Just don’t let him be a pig,” I pray.
I sit shivering on the examining table, dressed in a large paper towel.
Doctor X shakes my hand, takes one look at my chart, sees my age, and says the magic word: “hormones.”
“I’m not here for hormones,” I say, “just a checkup.”
Perhaps he has me confused with someone else.
“Ah, but a woman your age - you should be thinking about hormones,” he says.
Hormones. Estrogen. Premarin, made from the urine of pregnant horses. Once touted as a preventative for osteoporosis, now they are the cure for everything from heart disease to hangnails. You start taking them at my age, and you take them forever.
“I’m not sick,” I say. “I don’t like the idea of taking a pill for the rest of my life.”
“That would have been a valid statement a hundred years ago,” Doctor X said.
“In those days, women died at age 45 or 50. Today, they can look forward to another 30 years or more of a good healthy life on hormones.”
I tell him that my mother is still going strong though she's over 90, and as far as I know, she has never taken hormones.
Doctor X interrupts. “You have good genes," he says. "You’ll probably live to be 100 on hormones.”
He misses the point entirely - that my mother has made it this far without years of taking hormones.
“Women are dropping like flies from heart disease,” he says.
“Hormones will protect you from that.”
I tell him it is my understanding that women - and men - are dropping like flies from heart disease because of cigarette smoking, alcohol intake, diets high in fat, and couch potato lifestyles.
Doctor X laughs right on cue. He seems like a nice enough guy. Decent, intelligent, good sense of humor. Then he goes for the jugular. “You’ll look younger,” he says.
The man has no shame.
He whips out a medical journal and begins to read to me about double blind studies, women who have suffered heart attacks, then made miraculous recoveries after taking estrogen. Estrogen is the greatest thing since fat-free cookies. Meanwhile, Dr. X has yet to check out a single thing about me except my age.
“No, thanks” I say.
I slide off the table and reach for my clothes. Doctor X finally stops talking.
“O.K.," he sighs. "Let’s do an exam.”
He pokes and prods, but Dr. X can find nothing wrong with me. Still, he suggests a blood workup next week to check my hormone levels. This sounds reasonable to me, so I agree to fast, drink lots of water, and have blood drawn. He starts talking about estrogen again. I ask him if he owns Premarin stock. He laughs again, although this time, his laugh is a bit nervous.
“I know,” I say. “Let’s put men on estrogen!”
Doctor X backs toward the door.
"Think about it," I say. "Millions of men on estrogen. They’d have healthier hearts, stronger bones. They’d stop that annoying habit of dying years before their wives. They’d be able to get in touch with their feelings. They could act like grownups."
By now, Dr. X has his hand on the doorknob, but I am on a roll. I blab on.
"Men on estrogen might not want to play those endless king-of-the-hill games any more," I crow. "They’d start thinking of how to make the world a better place.
We’d never again have to drive behind a car with a bumper sticker that read, 'He who dies with the most toys wins.'”
Dr. X is out the door by now, but I'm thinking of the economic consequences of my plan - an immediate doubling of the target market for estrogen! We could all make a killing on Premarin stock!
Sure, men might get a little cranky on estrogen, especially when there’s a full moon, but I could live with that. Hey, if men took estrogen, maybe we’d have a kinder, gentler world. If men took estrogen, maybe we’d have peace on earth.
If men took estrogen, maybe then, they’d learn to listen.