Thursday, March 31, 2011

A visit to the doctor's office.

“If I'd known I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself.” --Eubie Blake

There’s a relatively new TV show called “Men of a Certain Age.” I have never watched it, I will never watch it, because the men in that show are about the same age as me. I don’t want to know their problems, their issues, their life stories, I already know them and I’ve got enough of my own. I simply don’t want to watch a bunch of guys my age sitting around commiserating about being our age. Unfulfilled dreams, shattered hopes, unrealized opportunities, colonoscopies, no thanks. I’d rather think of myself the way Angel thinks of me, youthful, handsome, svelte, dashing . . .

But men of our age do need to do a thing or two they didn’t need to do when they were younger. They need to go see a doctor even if all their limbs are intact and they are not bleeding profusely. That’s because at around this age things start to wear out, fall off or just stop working. Things that happen or show up during this period in a man’s life are generally for keeps. If a man has taken good care of himself, he may have nothing to worry about. For the rest of us though it can be quite a frightening experience. Sins of the past are certainly going to come back to haunt us.

I know for a fact that a typical 19 year old male can subsist for months on end on nothing but ramen noodles and Kool-Aid. He won’t even gain weight. He can even go two or three days without sleep if the party is good enough. Older men cannot. They think they can, but seriously, they can’t. Middle age is a fierce, fickle and often scary era.

Angel’s been patiently nudging me to make an appointment for a few years now. I knew I needed to, but always found a perfectly good excuse not to. A month or so ago I had a change in heart. Things were just not right. I had a cold that lingered for about five weeks, I felt overly stressed about work, family, finances, winter, well, just about everything was stressing me out, wearing me down. To the point that even my ordinarily rather sedate lifestyle was spiraling toward complete lethargy. I became convinced that I suffered from the dreaded ‘iron-poor-tired-blood’ and should at the very least ask a doctor about a prescription for Geritol.

I was anxious going in, like I get when I take my ten year old car in for inspection. I was much more worried about what I didn’t know about than the little flaws and weaknesses I was aware of. I knew all my light bulbs were not working, the tread’s a little threadbare, but the real fear was that the engine itself was silently, covertly teetering on the edge of colossal and catastrophic failure.

The doctor seemed to be a good man, not too chatty, not too serious, genuine, confident and caring. I decided to not try to lie about anything, though I was certainly tempted. If this man was half the doctor I’d heard he was I wouldn’t be able to fool him anyhow. So I answered his questions honestly, for the most part.

“So, when’s the last time you saw a doctor?” He asked.

“About three years ago.”

“What was that visit for?”

“My dog bit my face in half.”

He looked at me, obviously searching for evidence of such a thing.

“Well, not my entire face, mostly just my lower lip.” I added.

He nodded and wrote something down.

“And before that?”

“Uh, well, I had tennis elbow in the 90’s got a cortisone shot, just one, didn’t like it, decided to just suffer after that.”

“You play tennis?”

“Actually it was more like mouse-click elbow than tennis elbow. I tend to avoid actual physical endeavors.”

He wrote something else down. I decided to fill in some gaps.

“In the mid ‘80’s I sprained my ankle, went in for that… and in ’82 I had a prostate infection, definitely went in for that.” Telling him this was embarrassing, I didn’t have much of a medical history at all.

He looked at me though he didn’t write anything down about the 80’s.

“So you don’t see doctors very often?” He asked.

“Well I had some pretty bad experiences in the military, there were some good doctors I’m sure, I just never managed to find them. It kind of polluted my regard for the profession.”

I’d used this line before, most medical people seem to take this response at face value. When I served, mostly during the Carter Administration, the military itself was not generally held in high regard. Viet Nam had beat it up pretty badly, the military was pretty much taking all comers, the pay was atrocious and morale in the ranks was generally dismal. A fully licensed MD could expect to bring in about 20K per year as a commissioned officer, about one fifth of what they could earn in almost any form of private practice. You generally get what you pay for.

Coincidentally during my time of service one of the most popular TV shows was ‘M.A.S.H’ a show about military doctors. My personal experience however was that in the real military, especially of the era I served, there was only about one Hawkeye Pierce for about every twenty or thirty Frank Burns’. I mean what kind of doctor would spend all that time and money in college and med school then voluntarily settle for the pay scale of a bank teller?

He poked and prodded, a little more writing stuff down occasionally.

“So how’s your diet?” He asked.

I had to think for a moment not wanting to admit anything terrible, yet not wanting to lie either.

“Better than it used to be.” I finally answered. Surprisingly that seemed to satisfy him. It’s true though, I do watch what I eat more than I used to. Not that I’d ever win any nutrition awards, but I do avoid pastries, soda pop and a few other hard line products, I rarely if ever add salt to prepared food and my first cup of coffee in the morning is actually a glass of orange juice. I didn’t mention that I eat like a lion, pretty much gorging myself on one meal per day, dinner. No breakfast, lunch if any at all consists of snack crackers and a tiny box of raisins. Then at dinnertime I’m famished and hoover up pretty much whatever is placed in front of me. Not that Angel ever actually places anything in front of me, but she does usually have something prepared. I don’t know why I eat this way, it just slowly evolved to this point a few years ago.

“So, do you get flu shots?”

“No, never.”

He waited for me to continue.

“Once again, bad experiences in the military, too many mandatory mystery shots. I’d heard the stories. Those guys were conniving and vicious.” This didn’t seem to please him but he made note and continued, asking about my hobbies and job. For hobbies I made sure to mention hiking and walking, not so much about watching “Law and Order” marathons and hard-core napping.

“So what are your current health concerns?” He asked, finally getting to the meat of the interview.

“Well, the usual stuff for a guy my age, cholesterol, blood pressure, weight, height.”

“You’re concerned about your blood pressure and cholesterol?”

“Why shouldn’t I be? You’ve heard how I treat myself; I tend to ignore most common sense recommendations for diet and exercise.”

“When’s the last time you had these checked?” He dug in.

“Well, I had my blood pressure checked twice in the last four years, once after the dog ate my face and another in the back of an ambulance after I flipped my truck on an icy bridge. It was kind of high then, but those were pretty much right after traumatic events and I sort of expected it to be high. As for cholesterol, as far as I know I’ve never had it tested.”

He looked at me as if suppressing a severe scold.

“Well Angel gets hers checked a couple of times a year, and we pretty much eat the same things.”

This didn’t work on him any more than it ever worked with Angel. At this point he pulled out a form with about a thousand line items and started checking several of them off. I could tell it was a lab request. We were going to have to start from scratch, figure out why I’m still alive and kicking after all these years of complacency, abject neglect and outright abuse. I knew this was coming, but, oh well.

His pen ran out of ink and he fumbled in his pocket for a fresh one.

“So what branch of the military were you in?” he asked.

“Air Force.”

He seemed at first genuinely pleased. He smiled, but the smile twisted a little and became somewhat snarky.

“Me too,” He replied, “right out of Medical School.”

Crap…These lab tests are going to be brutal.