July 31, 2000 -- Donald Smith hesitates outside the door of a basement classroom at the Kaiser Permanente Hospital in San Diego, Calif. He's 56, with gray hair, but the anxious expression on his face makes him look like a school kid who forgot his homework.
Before Smith has time to fake a stomach ache, Bruce Bekkar, MD, a Kaiser obstetrician-gynecologist, persuades him to come on in. "You're in the right place," says Bekkar, who teaches the class called "PMS, the Menopause, and You."
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This three-hour crash course for men about women's anatomy and health concerns is believed to be the only one of its kind in the United States, although Bekkar hopes it will become a trend. His premise is straightforward: Teach men to understand why their wives or girlfriends may sometimes feel crabby, bloated, or on fire. By doing so, relationships are saved, and often grow stronger. Trouble brews, he says, when guys don't understand what their wives or girlfriends are going through.
Soon, Smith is sitting in the classroom, surrounded by 13 other men, most of whom look as uncomfortable as he does. They busy themselves reading handouts, eyes glued to the printed materials. Bekkar, who has taught the classes monthly for two years and always has a full house, warms them up quickly with his easy lecture style, punctuated by jokes, jazzy slides, and a wit honed by his stand-up stint at a San Diego comedy club. As he teaches the men, women attend a similar class next door to discuss their own concerns about PMS and menopause. Some of them are the girlfriends and wives of the guys in the class.
While most of the men are here because their partners asked them to come, about a third came to the class even though their wives didn't. James, 50, became concerned a few months ago when his wife Jan showed signs of unusual behavior. Three times in six months she forgot to mail the credit card bill. "Never in her life has this happened," he says. She was feeling stressed-out and out of control. When his wife's friend suggested it could be menopause, James decided to come and get educated.