What it’s like to go to a doctor appointment in Australia

My friend Tiffany moved from L.A. to New Zealand to Australia. On her blog, NewMeLand, there’s a post about doctor appointments and, as someone who often faints after medical examinations, I find it funny and harrowing:


There is no such thing as an annual physical in Australia. You go to the doctor and ask for it, and they look at you like you’re some overindulgent yahoo who wants her bones counted. Here, and in New Zealand, you are considered well until you come forward with a cough, lump, or plague to prove you’re not.

Or. You’re of that age and you get a letter.

I recently got a letter stating it was time for my health check. It opened with how as we get older, many of us become more vulnerable to disease and it ended with me. Their records showed I was within the “age rage” for a health check. A perfectly placed typo. Old me was furious. I didn’t like being of that age. But if you add up all the cakes, I was. So I made an appointment. My bones couldn’t wait to be counted.

Now I’ve been to my doctor here before for a sore this and a swollen that. The specifics of this and that or my incessant need to Google it all is not important. What is important is my doctor and I have a relationship. One based on respect, honesty, and both of us being fully dressed.

That relationship changed on health check day.

Things you should know at this point:
No nurses at doctor’s offices here.
None of the doctors I have encountered wear a white coat or drape a stethoscope around their necks like they do in the movies or America.
Most family doctors’ offices are in old repurposed buildings. Craftsman houses. Terrace apartments. Mine screams low-performing brothel.

Things I didn’t know at any point:

I was called into my doctor’s room by my doctor. Her office is old, wooden, creaky. There is no sink even though I (and all those girls before me) wished there was. An examining table is pushed up against one wall. A desk occupies the opposite one. In between the two, so much space you could twirl.

What happens next is what nightmares are made of. You know the ones where you show up to an exam, your in-laws’ house, your work four jobs ago and find you have no clothes on. This is that guy but with more gravity.

Standing in the so much space, I twirl to face my doctor. In her floral dress. With no doctor’s coat. Or stethoscope. Or medical anything anywhere on her person. And this is when I realize that my doctor, as competent as she is, doesn’t look like a doctor. She looks like she could be anything. And this exchange we’re about to have? Well. It could be between me and just about anyone.

Doctor: Okay, so I’m going to need you to take your clothes off.

Me: Okay.

Anyone: Down to your underwear.

Me: Right.

I wait for some sort of gown to be offered to me and privacy.

The bookstore clerk offers me nothing and waits.

I awkwardly take off my top.

The accountant awkwardly watches me fold my top.

I hope a curtain will soon be pulled. But I notice there is no curtain for the off duty security guard to pull.

I unbutton my denim.

The librarian doesn’t.

Confused but compliant, I pull my jeans down, all the way down, and step out of them. I try not to trip over my shoe as I trip over my shoe.

The bus driver looks away to check her bus schedule as I discover I’M WEARING THE WRONG UNDERWEAR!

I am mortified.

The florist looks up and sees my inappropriate thong.

I apologize for my panty selection.

Astronaut: No worries.

Oh but I am worried. Because I am nearly naked! Just standing there.

The CEO of a Fortune 500 company, also just standing there, reminds me: Bra too.

Bra too? I think out loud with words.

The farmer nods.

I begrudgingly take off my bra. And, yep, there are my boobs. I am now super naked.

Your sister: Let’s get started.

I cannot believe we’re not done.

The very not naked human resources manager walks over to the examining table and pats the piece of hygienic paper covering it.

I want to Project Runway that piece of hygienic paper into a robe but it is too small to turn into anything besides a thong, which would be inappropriate and redundant, so instead I sit on it.

Possible Evil Gown Hoarder: Lie down so I can count your bones.

End scene.

I wish I could say the above word jumble was a one-time dealie, but it wasn’t. It happened again weeks later at my mammogram and again at my mole check with varying degrees of me being nude in front of people who weren’t nude and had no gown cover up drawer. But that’s okay. With experience comes confidence. I now take off my bra before I’m even asked. And I can rattle off my chicken sausage pasta recipe with my pants off. Which is good because I am of that age.

Tomorrow I go to the ophthalmologist.

6 Replies to “What it’s like to go to a doctor appointment in Australia”

  1. I think I’ll never forget a physical in Houston with my doctor and her resident in training. At some point, she said “well, your blood pressure is a little high, but we’ll chalk that up to you standing naked in front of two women.”

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