I remember one summer when my parents decided that I should take swimming lessons at the YMCA. Prior to that summer I had taken some lessons at a private club -- no big deal. But taking them at the Y (which must have been cheaper for my folks) required joining the club, and that meant that I had to undergo my one and only group physical examination.
My sister and I had always had a school check up at the doctor's office every Fall, so I knew the basic routine -- but at the Y there must have been 75 or 80 kids, aged 7 - 10, all being checked at once. My dad took me down there on the appointed Saturday, to sign me up. I don't know if he knew about the physical being required. (If he did he sure didn't say anything to me about it.) I began to panic when I saw the gymnasium full of boys stripped to their jockey shorts going from station to station where a nurse or a doctor did one or another part of the exam.
Dad took me into the locker room and stripped me out of my clothes, down to my tighty-whiteys. Then we went out into the gym, and a nurse checked my name against the registration list, collected the fee from my father, and handed me a large index card on which she had printed my name, my birthdate, and the date of the exam. The card had a series of boxes on it which corresponded to each station of the examination. My dad wandered off to a corner of the room where he spent the hour or so we were there visiting with several of the other dads. I was on my own to follow the crowd from station to station.
I was weighed and measured by the first nurse, my temperature (oral) and blood pressure were taken at the next. I panicked when I smelled the reek of alcohol at the next stop, where my finger was pricked by a nurse for a blood sample. Then eyes and ears, throat exam and nose, heart and lungs listened to by a doctor with a cold stethoscope, each station visited in turn. Toward the end we had to go behind a flimsy screen and deliver a urine sample in a jar, drop our shorts for an elderly doctor to fondle our little penises and testicles (turn your head and cough), then shorts back up and off to the final station.
At the final table there were dozens of hypodermic syringes laid out on the table, and as each boy approached a nurse sat him in a chair, while another nurse took up a hypodermic and injected a vaccination (a tetanus shot required of all participants). I hated shots, and this station seemed to be a bottleneck in an otherwise efficient system, so I was forced to wait my turn while watching several of the boys before me take their needles. It didn't reassure that some of them openly cried or fought the nurse (bringing reinforcements from somewhere in the building to hold them still). When it was my turn I took my seat and watched the nurse's practiced moves, swabbing off my right shoulder, stabbing the needle in, drawing the piston back to check for blood, and injecting the stinging medicine. Then I was done, clutching my fully checked card I was free to find my dad and my locker, to dress and to go.
I have never experienced anything quite like that morning since. I'm sure my dad, who had been in the military service during the Second World War didn't give the process a second thought -- but the image of that day has remained with me all these years. So may (nearly) naked boys in a large room with nurses in their starched white uniforms, and physicians in their smocks or lab coats and neckties is something I will never forget. Anyone else have a similar experience to share?