Tim McMichael used to hate going to the doctor. He says he’d only make an appointment when things got bad enough that “I couldn’t stand it anymore.”
Overweight for most of his life (“Even as a kid, I’ve always been the heaviest one in a room,” he says) the now 42-year-old father of six has a long history of health issues, including a stomach hernia and chronic pain that at times has been debilitating.
He sought medical help about 15 years ago, when he first started feeling some aching in his hands and face. But the doctors then blamed his troubles on his weight and left it at that, and that frustrated him. He wanted to lose weight, but that’s easier said than done. And once the pain started, it felt impossible.
So, for almost a decade after that, “I just kind of learned to live with it,” McMichael says. “I just thought I was going to be big the rest of my life, and I just had to deal with it.
“I really didn’t take care of myself the way I should,” the Detroit Lakes man admits.
A lot of men in America could say the same. Men are notoriously bad at seeing their doctors on a regular basis. According to the Washington D.C.-based nonprofit Men’s Health Network, women are 100% more likely than men to visit the doctor for annual exams and preventive services.
This habitual underdoctoring, when taken into account along with workplace hazards and biological differences from women (men have fewer infection-fighting T-cells, for example), leads men to have higher death rates from disease and shorter life expectancy overall.
Statistics cited on MensHealthNetwork.org show men die at higher rates than women from nine of the top 10 causes of death, such as heart disease and cancer, and are also the victims of over 92% of all workplace deaths. Men are also at higher risk of suicide, as their depression and other mental health disorders are less likely to be diagnosed and treated.
By the age of 100, women outnumber men eight to one.
These sorts of alarming statistics led President Bill Clinton, in 1994, to establish a National Men’s Health Week every June, the week before Father’s Day. That week has since expanded into a month-long annual effort to raise awareness about men’s health, and share information to help minimize health risks for men.
The Presidential Proclamation states that June is a time for men, “to familiarize themselves with the symptoms and warning signs of diseases and illnesses that pose a risk to them, while also committing to leading more active and healthier lifestyles.”
Men who do these things often live longer and better lives as a result. Take McMichael as an example.
About five years ago, McMichael reached a crossroads. His pain had gotten so bad that he couldn’t even get out of bed some days, and he was using crutches or a cane to walk. His weight was higher than ever, at more than 300 pounds.
His youngest daughter had just been born, and he had other young kids at home, too, but he didn’t have the energy to play with them. He felt like he wasn’t able to be the father he wanted to be, like he wasn’t doing enough for his family. He decided it was time to try and turn his health around.
“It was at a point where it was getting kind of old,” he says. “I knew if I could lose the weight and be healthy, I could be there for my kids more, and for my wife, to help her out with stuff. And just to be healthier for myself, too -- that was one of my main goals.”
McMichael’s wife, Melanie, a nurse, helped him find the right doctors to work with, and that made a big difference for him. He started to undergo all sorts of tests for his pain, and also began a year-long process of shaping up (both mentally and physically) for weight loss surgery -- a procedure that was risky but, he ultimately decided, worthwhile.
After testing him for lupus and other chronic pain disorders, doctors believe McMichael most likely has multiple sclerosis, a disease of the central nervous system, though a formal diagnosis has yet to be made. He says his doctors decided to hold off on treating his pain until well after his weight loss surgery, since dramatic weight loss can have a dramatic effect on pain levels for years afterward.
McMichael's weight-loss surgery was a success and, today, he is about 120 pounds lighter than he was at his peak. He has more energy again, he says, and feels like a better father and husband because of it.
“I’m happy I did it,” he says. “I notice a huge difference. I can keep up with my kids now. I can run around with them, keep up with them, be a dad to them.”
Losing the weight also lessened McMichael’s chronic pain levels, as his doctors predicted they would. While he still has occasional flare ups, he says the pain overall is much more manageable now than it was before the surgery.
If the pain starts to get worse again, he adds, he’ll be less “stubborn and hard-headed” about going back to the doctor to take care of it.
McMichael, who has degrees in graphic design and web development, has been a stay-at-home dad for the past few years. He went back to school last year for community health work, and is a Citizen Father with The FATHER Project.
Why men are at high risk
A higher percentage of men have no health care coverage.
Men make half as many physician visits for prevention.
Men are employed in greater numbers in the most dangerous occupations, such as mining, fire fighting, construction and fishing.
Society discourages healthy behaviors in men and boys.
Research on male-specific diseases is underfunded.
Men may have less healthy lifestyles, including risk-taking at younger ages.
How to help
Encourage the men in your life to get their physicals. Most factors that contribute to men’s shorter, less healthy lives are preventable. And prevention starts with seeing a healthcare provider on a regular basis. Download a helpful chart of recommended screenings at www.healthfinder.gov.
Then, encourage them to get physical. The benefits of physical activity on health outcomes are extensive. Suggest joining the local community center, signing up for personal training sessions, or simply taking regular walks.
Let him know you care. One reason men disregard their own health is that they’re too busy taking care of everyone else. But if they die early, they’ll be hurting the very people they’ve worked so hard to protect. Remind him that you and your other family members love him and need him to be alive and healthy for as long as possible.
Wear blue. Encourage everyone you know to wear something blue during Men’s Health Week, celebrated June 15-21 this year.
Learn more. Men’s Health Network has collected more than 300 proclamations recognizing Men’s Health Month (and Week), the important part that fathers play as role models for their children, and how much better off kids are when they have an actively involved dad in their life. Visit www.MensHealthNetwork.org or www.MensHealthMonth.org.