Military Life

Accidental Cankle Examinations

September 20, 2012

I often hear grown-ups complain about healthcare. Politicians seem to be really worked up about it now, too. Apparently, it is a big deal.

Someday I will tell you all about getting major hip surgery at 24 and illuminate some holes in the healthcare system, but today I am thinking about cankles.

Urban dictionary defines cankles as “Calves that become feet without taking an ankle break.” I find that definition satisfying on two levels:

  1. I really like the idea of an “ankle break”
  2. It really paints a vivid mental picture.

All of this cankle-talk began with a simple doctor’s appointment.

For everyone who has been or currently is on TRICARE health insurance, I would like to give you a high five. If this discussion were in person, after our high five we would discuss the pitfalls of military medical insurance. We would exchange horror stories. We would create a little club with patches and a secret handshake. I’d like to think that we would build a fort to host our discussions and then we would speak in a whisper. We would eventually throw our hands up in the air and say something like, “What is this world coming to!? TRICARE won’t even pay for calf implants for babies!”

I’m not asking for calf implants; I’m just using it as a plausible example. What I really want is to have a normal doctor’s appointment with a normal doctor. Can’t TRICARE give this to me? That’s where the cankles come in.

I had my first appointment with a new Primary Care Manager yesterday. For those who don’t know, TRICARE assigns you a doctor from their database of approved providers and I was visiting my newly assigned doctor for the first time.

I want to share with you a few highlights from the adventure.

First, I arrived to the sprawling medical campus of Balboa Medical Center and went to Patient Services to find out which building my doctor was located in. The staff couldn’t tell me. In fact, they were weirded out by the request.  They tried to look up the doctor by last name, but they needed more information. Did I know the doctor’sfirst name? Did I know what department he worked in? I kid you not, Balboa Medical does not have an alphabetized directory of doctors who work in their facility.

Good thing I have the investigative skills of Sherlock Holmes combined with Bill Nye the Science Guy. I found the doctor after 30 minutes of wandering the campus, calling TRICARE, and performing impromptu science experiments.

Then I waited for an hour.

Here is how the nurse interview went:

Nurse: How is your cholesterol?

Me: Um, fine, I think. I’m not really sure.


Nurse: Any problems with your vision? Cataracts?

Me: I wear contacts?


Nurse: Do you have a living will?

Me: No, I haven’t really thought about it.

Nurse: Why don’t I provide you some information about it so you can discuss your final wishes with your family.

Me: [silence]


Nurse: Do you feel safe living at home? Elder abuse is really prevalent these days.

Me: I’m 25, I don’t think that question applies to me.


Then I realized something. My primary doctor was actually a geriatric physician. TRICARE had assigned me an old-people doctor.  I was getting treated at a geriatric facility. The staff had no idea what to do with me.

When I finally saw the doctor, he seemed really nervous. He wouldn’t look me in the eye. Then another gold nugget rose to the surface: This doctor was actually still in residency and was on loan from Scripps Health. No wonder he was unsearchable in the Balboa Medical system. I was essentially getting treated by a medical student. We were the same age.

Here’s how that interview went:

Doctor: Um, hello. Wow, you are the healthiest person I have seen. You are young.  How is your diet? Are you staying away from fried foods?
Me: Um, yeah, I guess so.

Doctor: Any medical issues I should be aware of?

Me: Well, I had hip surgery last year.

Doctor: Oh, yikes. Did you take a spill?

Me: A spill? Like a fall? No, I broke it in a marathon.

Doctor: Oh, wow. Marathon. Wow.


Doctor: Let’s start the examination. I will begin by checking your ankles for swelling.

Me: [Silence]

I did not see this coming. Step one of any thorough medical examination begins with a cankle inspection, I guess. Why is this the first time I have received one!?

Good news. No signs of creeping cankle-sickness yet!

The doctor was so nervous about my age that his stethoscope was shaking when he listened to my heart…. at my neck. Yep, that’s right. He was too nervous to touch my chest, so he found my heartbeat in my clavicle.

The examination mercifully ended after about 10 minutes. He said he would probably never see me again because he was on rotation. Also, he informed me that, if I had any problems, he was really difficult to get a hold of because he was on a rotation. I wished him luck on graduating medical school. He replied, “Oh, that’s still a long ways away.”

The thing is, I’m not mad.

I’m not sick, so it was more hilarious than it was alarming.

I felt reassured by the slenderness of my ankles.

I left with a lot of valuable pamphlets on living wills.

I got a flu shot.

I think it was a winning appointment all around. However, after this appointment, I feel the need to encourage everyone to look out for the most rampant and dangerous health emergencies threatening our 20-something youth:

  1. Cataracts
  2. Spills (a.k.a. falling)
  3. Cankles

Be aware.

But don’t worry, if you are concerned about any of these symptoms, I have a great doctor I can refer you to. If only I could find him in the system…

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