Man Maintenance

by Jill Margo
Penguin 1996 $16.95
Reviewed by Richard Fletcher, Director, Men's Health Project, Family Action Centre, University of Newcastle.

When Jill Margo suggested to her colleagues at the Sydney Morning Herald that she write a new column on Men's Health, they readily agreed. "But" they said, "we see a problem ... what will you put in it the second week?" Many hundreds of columns later (Jill has now moved to the Australian to write Achilles Heel), the news value of men's health has waned but the information needs of men in our community remain. This book, a compilation of over 100 short bursts of information, will be a part of the solution to the knowledge gap in men's health.

The fact that Jill, not Bill or Keith, took this initiative is in itself instructive. Contrary to the assumption of many journalists (and not a few academics), Men's Health has not evolved as a backlash against women's health nor has it been driven by men either individually or in groups. Women, most often frontline health workers, have been most active in promoting attention to men's poor health.

With subjects from tattoos and tail winds (farting) to hormone replacement therapy for men, this book also puts paid to the idea that men's health consists of men's plumbing and is best left to urologists. There is a concentration on the physical and biomedical aspects of health, and some will notice a 'gee whizz' fascination with medical science, but this is useful, coming as we do from a publishing history of books about men which discounted the physical and talked only of men's "need to cry".

While the pieces are grouped under the headings, Men at Work, Men in Bed, Men in the Mirror, they remain basically newspaper-level tips and discussion about health. One benefit of this arrangement is the catchy opening paragraphs. My favourite is the one for Diverticular Disease. It begins with the nurseryman who strained his urine, planted the residue and grew tomatoes!

The drawback is the lack of connection and the emphasis on taking precautions - inspect your stool, check your urine, watch your skin, rush off to the doctor at the first sign of scrotal swelling, feeling thirsty or sore knees. If you (that's you fellow males) were to read this book from cover to cover you would be certain to find some complaint for yourself. After all, if 20% of men have anal incontinence, two thirds have smelly farts and 30% are alcoholics, and if another 30% have heartburn or, if they are over fifty, swollen breasts and 8% are colour blind there is bound to be something for every male body.

This book does not live up to its claim on the cover to tell us "How the male body runs and what to do if it breaks down", but it is nevertheless a user friendly collection of bite sized information on health for men.

Quotes from the book:

Although a TURP (transurethral resection of the prostate) is the recommended form of treatment, men should be aware that it carries a high rate of undesirable side effects. There is some argument about how many men suffer side effects and different studies have thrown up vastly different percentages. Some say that after a TURP 90 per cent of men will end up with retrograde ejaculation (they ejaculate backwards into their bladders). Some say this only happens to half of them.
One question many men ask is how do they know if their chest pain is serious enough to call an ambulance. There is no fixed description of 'dangerous' chest pain and some men can suffer cardiac arrest having felt no pain at all. However, a typical pain pattern starts in the chest and radiates up to the jaw and down the left arm. It can be so severe that men say they feel they're in a vice. Others describe a crushing sensation, as if they have a ten-tonne weight on their chest.
When a boy loses his father, one of the last things he wants to hear is that he is now 'the man of the house' or that he should 'take care of his mother'. This advice is commonly given to grieving boys, and although it is offered with good intentions and appears innocuous, it can have destructive consequences.
The average healthy Australian bloke passes wind twelve times a day. He releases around half a litre of gas enough to blow up a small balloon. These days, we know more about farting than ever before. Fearless investigators have collected emissions from all sorts of people on all sorts of diets and then documented their findings.

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