When my son and his teammates (ages 12-18) were training for the men’s gymnastics State Championships, their coach came down with a sore throat and fever. He continued to coach the boys despite being sick because performing well at this competition meant a shot at Regionals and ultimately the Jr. Olympic National Championships.
A week went by and his “cold” didn’t go away as you would expect for an apparently healthy man, but instead grew worse. His fever peaked at 105°F. Being a former gymnast, he had a high tolerance for pain and didn’t feel compelled to seek medical attention. Committed to his athletes ahead of his own health, he continued to spend four hours a night in the gym coaching.
We pleaded with him to see a doctor. Finally, on a Tuesday he went to an urgent care center, but ended up with nothing stronger than some over-the-counter medication. By Thursday morning, he had become so weak that he could barely walk and asked a neighboring team parent to drive him to the hospital. By noon that day, he was on life support — unable to sustain life on his own. We were stunned.
On Saturday, the boys competed at the State Championships without their coach by their side and hundreds of people prayed for his recovery. His team won the title of State Champions and most of his gymnasts qualified to compete at the Regional Championships. Seven hours later, on Sunday at 3:00 AM, their coach was pronounced dead at the age of 44.
The cause of death was scarlet fever. Most people raised an eyebrow when told he died of this illness because in today’s world, most Americans only read about people getting this once feared disease. Scarlet fever was a major cause of death before antibiotics, but today, it’s rare and usually a mild illness. Scarlet fever is caused by the same streptococcal (strep) bacteria that causes strep throat. Strep today is easy to diagnose with a rapid strep test (throat culture) and just as easy to treat with antibiotics. The urgent care physician missed the clinical signs and symptoms and failed to perform the critical diagnostic tests, but I believe if my son’s coach wasn’t a man, he may still be alive today.
The urgent care doctor underestimated the extent of the coach’s illness in his assessment. Many men with sports backgrounds are used to tolerating unusually high levels of pain. Men are also raised to not reveal weakness and often minimize signs of discomfort.
This man’s death shook the world. As a renown coach/gymnast in the international arena, his passing affected every man who ever said, “I don’t have time to see a doctor. I’ll be fine.” As a cardiac rehabilitation clinical exercise physiologist, 95% of my heart patients are men and I hear time after time how they ignored or shrugged off their body’s warnings.
Men typically resist getting medical attention when in need. They talk themselves out of their discomfort, forego asking for help, and second-guess (or refuse) going to the emergency room. Also, most men put work ahead of their health because in their world, work is what defines them. Many men have their heart attacks at work or on their way to work.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more men die from cancer, heart disease, injuries, stroke, and diabetes than women. However, they are half as likely to go to the doctor for annual exams and preventive care. Because men have made themselves so ironically vulnerable, I decided to focus on Men’s Health and healthy aging for our first episode of *The Health Reporter. Written by Karen Owoc, The Health Reporter *Karen Owoc is a Clinical Exercise Physiologist and Health News TV host. The Health Reporter is the outgrowth of her blog http://TheHealthReporter.tv and was developed and produced in collaboration with the Midpen Media Center. This new half-hour television show addresses a range of medical conditions, concerns, the latest technologies, and health services with Bay Area physicians. Topics are current, relevant and provocative.