In fact, prior to my recent visit to The Greenbrier Clinic, it had been 15 years or more since I had been to the doctor for a physical or any specific problem, and I have been the subject of ridicule from my family for that fact for years.
At the urging of my colleagues and family, though, I finally agreed to experience the Executive Health Exam
at The Greenbrier Clinic and write about the experience — mostly so I could put an end to the constant complaining. I am getting a little older, 38, and I know that I need to monitor my health a little closer, as I am reaching the age that more and more problems tend to occur. The Clinic experience, everyone assured me, would be different than any previous visit to the doctor, and it could change my views on going in for checkups. So I caved.
From the beginning, it became clear that this was more than just talk.
My appointment was set for the morning of January 9, 2019, and on January 3, I received an email with information about what to expect. It included forms to fill out in advance — so that I didn’t have to sit in a waiting from and fill them out, one of my many complaints about a typical doctor experience — and so that the physicians would have time to thoroughly review my medical history before I arrived. It also included a detailed itinerary of when and where I needed to be on the day of the appointment and what to expect. This took away the anxiety of arriving at a new place and being unsure of the protocol. By simply reading the email, I came to the appointment much more relaxed than usual.
The morning began at 7:30 a.m., and after a seamless check-in, since most of the information had been logged in advance, I headed to my fasting labs. Per the instructions on my preparatory
e-mail, I had not eaten since 8 p.m. the night before, a necessary fast to help with the accuracy of the results. I met a calming nurse who drew a couple vials blood to send to the lab for testing. Despite a little trouble finding my veins, she was able to extract the blood with little fuss, but before I walked out she handed me a bag and asked me if I could also provide a urine sample.
White Sulphur Springs, we had a problem. Since I had not eaten in 12 hours, I also hadn’t thought to drink anything. So, I was not quite ready for this sample. I tried, but after finding no success, I was left to carry my paper bag with me on every step of my journey, until I was finally prepared to give the necessary sample. It became a good joke between me and our photographer, Mike Wyatt, who helped document this experience. Every time I made a move, Wyatt would ask if I had my baggie, and I have to admit, I had to go back for it more than once.
Fitness Strength: Stage 1
Next on the agenda was a trip to see Matt Morris
, The Greenbrier’s Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. With Morris, we discussed body mass, my exercise habits, the importance of exercise as we grow older and other benefits of a healthy lifestyle. He measured my height, weight, and other body measurements, as well as my flexibility, which I readily admitted could use some work.
Matt didn’t preach or make me feel guilty about my recent lack of exercise. After running around three miles four days a week for about eight months in 2017, I had suddenly stopped in 2018 for no apparent reason and hadn’t exercised much since. Morris didn’t lecture me about the curious decision, but he instead spoke with understanding while still explaining the benefits of becoming active once again. He also said little about the 20 extra pounds I had gained in the last 12 months. The BMI chart did the talking for him. Instead, Morris spoke about the positives of my current body state and the simplicity of getting it back to the range that was optimal for my body type.
I left Morris’ office a little embarrassed by my recent laziness, and my chronic lack of flexibility, but I was motivated to do something to fix the problem.
From there, it was on to the nursing station, where the nurses checked my blood pressure, took my temperature and monitored my heart rate, all to give critical information to the physician for the consultation that was next on the schedule.
Since I had a few minutes to wait when the nurse was finished before that consultation began, I headed to an extremely nice waiting area, where breakfast pastries, fruits and drinks awaited in a comfortable room with televisions, magazines and plush chairs. Having not eaten all morning, I was ready for some fruit, but the best part was seeing the water dispenser on one side of the room. I chugged about five or six cups of water, headed to the bathroom and was finally able to say goodbye to my little brown bag. I almost felt like Tom Hanks leaving Wilson in the movie "Cast Away."
Meeting the physician
I didn't have time to grieve, though, as it was time for my consultation with my physician, and I was warmly welcomed by Dr. Martye Marshall
, who has been at The Greenbrier Clinic since 2012. A native of Augusta, Ga., who graduated from the University of Georgia in 1979 and the Medical College of Georgia in 1983, Dr. Marshall served in private practice in Florida for 12 years before moving to West Chester, Pennsylvania and eventually landing at The Greenbrier.
Immediately, I could tell this wasn’t going to be anything like a normal conversation with a doctor. Dr. Marshall wanted to know me, not just any symptoms or concerns I might have. She was warm and caring and spent a significant amount of time getting to know me on a personal level, as well as my medical history, before moving on to the physical aspect of my visit.
The physical portion was about what was expected. Dr. Marshall rechecked my blood pressure, since it was a little high on the initial test, then checked my ears, my mouth, my heart and my eyes, all of the routine checks that are expected at a physical.
From there, it was onto another registration, where all of my information was checked again and the schedule for the remainder of the day was explained.
There was still plenty more to do before lunch, including an abdominal ultrasound, which was much more relaxing than I expected. Lying on a cushioned table in a quiet, dark room, I nearly fell
asleep before Wyatt flashed the camera in my face to bring me back to earth. The process took some time, but the ultrasound technician was very thorough and explained the process from start to finish.
A chest x-ray followed, a quick and painless procedure, and then it was back to the nursing station for another blood pressure check, an audiogram and a spirometry test. All went as smooth as could be, and I ended the visit by getting the flu vaccine and the Tdap vaccine, which I have also lacked because of my infrequent visits to the doctor.
It was almost time for lunch, but first The Clinic’s Registered Dietician, Dr. Connie Gottshall
, had to scare me away from eating anything.
Actually, that’s not true at all. I was impressed with how reasonable Gottshall was about the realities of daily life and the foods we eat. She didn’t just throw a bunch of vegetables in my face and tell me I had to eat them, as I expected. Instead, Gottshall had suggestions of how to make better choices and mix the foods I love with other healthy options for proper nutritional value. She used visual aids and took the time to learn about my tastes and my lifestyle and tailored her suggestions to that information. It was an informative discussion, and I left armed with the tools to make better choices in eating.
After an hour break for lunch at 12:30 p.m., it was back to The Clinic for one final consultation, but before returning I followed through on an e-mail I had received from The Clinic and downloaded the patient portal onto my phone. I was amazed that many of the morning results were already there for me to view.
Because The Greenbrier Clinic has its own labs for testing, it takes very little time to get results, and I could read the results, as well as explanations from The Clinic staff, right there on the patient portal, just hours after the tests were complete.
The portal also includes information about upcoming appointments and provides patients the opportunity to interact with the physicians through inbox messages. Scheduling is also available through the portal, a convenient way to manage your health online.
Fitness Strength: Stage 2
The final consultation of the day came back in Morris’ office, and this time he measured my cardiovascular health with a simple 10-minute walk on the treadmill, as well as testing my muscle strength and endurance with a bench press test. Again, Morris simply pointed out my needs and provided solutions without being harsh or critical of my past habits. He explained that muscle strength is critical in later years. As the impacts of aging are felt, it is more and more important to have the muscle strength to get up and down and move around.
With that, my day was complete, and I left with an entirely different view of what a complete physical could and should be all about.
The only thing left was to study my sleep habits, so I hooked a pulse oxometer to myself before bed to measure my pulse and oxygen levels during sleep.
The next day
Day No. 2 of my executive physical came on January 10 and was basically a discharge discussion with Dr. Marshall. She went over all of my results, answered any questions and offered solutions for the areas of concern that came up in my evaluation.
My vitamin D levels were extremely low, so Dr. Marshall provided a prescription for a prescription-strength supplement. She was somewhat concerned about my blood pressure but suggested that I monitor it in an environment that was more comfortable to me. I did, and everything turned out fine.
The abdominal ultrasound picked up what appeared to a small cyst on my kidney. She wasn’t too concerned but suggested a follow-up ultrasound in six months to make sure the size hadn’t changed. My cholesterol levels were somewhat high, and Dr. Marshall offered some suggestions for getting that under control. Otherwise, I was healthy and thankful to be armed with that knowledge.
In the weeks that have followed my visit, I have worked toward making some of the diet, exercise and lifestyle changes that were recommended, and I truly feel grateful that I was convinced to give the executive physical a shot.
It feels good know the issues of need and be armed with the knowledge of how to work on them. Overall, the entire experience was something entirely new and one I would recommend to anyone who is looking to get a complete picture of their health.
I was also surprised to learn that not every executive physical is the same. The patient’s age, sex, lifestyle and medical history help the physicians determine which tests and procedures are most valuable for that particular patient, and the itinerary is catered to that individual. At The Greenbrier Clinic, you’re not a number or a test result. You are a person, and it makes sense that different people have different needs and concerns.
The Greenbrier Clinic’s approach to preventative medicine makes a trip to the doctor’s office much less intimidating and more enjoyable, and I left with a new appreciation for the amazing men and women who have served patients’ needs at The Greenbrier since 1948. Thanks to The Greenbrier Clinic, it won’t be decades before I see the inside of a doctor’s office again.