Thursday, May 28, 2009

Here's what's up, Doc...

Like most men my age I don’t go to the doctor often enough.

Why should I? I’m fine.

The last time I paid a visit to my local learned disciple of Hippocrates was sometime last year when I had a panic attack. It had never happened before and with no experience I was concerned that I might be in the early throes of a heart thing. Not a heart attack. You know, just a “thing.”

It was very responsible of me. “Honey,” I told Carolann, “I think you should take me to the emergency room just to have this thing checked out.”

Aside from the fact that those hastily-spoken words cost me hundreds of dollars despite months of haggling with my insurance company, it was probably the most grownup thing I’ve done in decades.

It was only a panic attack. Twenty-nine people in my office had been fired that day. Go figure.

But, doctors need to understand something and if you know one personally, please do us all a favor and send him or her the following note:

Your holy Magnificence;

Mindful as I am of your superior breeding, social standing, intellect, training and anthropological evolution, I will make this as brief as possible. I am, of course, properly awed to be graced by your audience. As a mere mortal who has mindlessly placed my very life in your hands simply because you have a waiting room (EXCELLENT choice of name, by the way!) littered by the moaning, wheezing, coughing street denizens from Oliver!, and by the very impressive framed, yellow sheets of mumbo-jumbo accreditation posted on the wall nobody ever read, I beseech you:

Please remove the scale from the hall between your gatekeeper’s station and my holding cell, wherein I await you.

I am in your office because I’m sure that I have contracted cancer. Prostate, heart, throat, lung, stomach, hair or nails cancer — whichever it is, I’m sure I have one or more. (I work in the news business.) If not cancer, a malignant brain tumor. Or maybe I have something medical science hasn’t yet discovered. Terminal toe fungus, perhaps. The point is, I’m not visiting you and your insurance poltergeists just for my health.

You people scare the shit out of me and I know it’s by design.

But then you insist on conditioning me for Your Highness’s arrival. Protocol must be observed.

I am called forth from my leisurely repose in the company of the unwashed, looking at, but not actually reading, a six month old copy of Parenting magazine.

Your unholy Host hands me yet another clip board with still more pages to fill out, pages that require long answers handwritten into very short blank spaces. She bids me forth, into your lair. First, however, inevitably as death itself, I am ordered to stand on the scale.

I could be clutching an obviously broken arm, a compound fracture with bone protruding from my elbow; I might be spewing blood from an otherwise empty eye socket, and still you would need to know my weight.


I’m sorry, Excellence. Guess I’m just a little self-consciousness.

I do note, however, that your big, professional, no doubt expensive scale inevitably registers me at fifteen pounds heavier than the one in my bathroom.

Nevertheless, I swallow that indignity and step into examination room 2 or 3. Sometimes 4, but that’s okay because you might already be in number 3! Or maybe you’re in number 5 and I have another hour to wait. Who knows? Not me. Nor, do I have a need to know! And certainly, your staff isn’t troubled to take a wild guess.

And so, I sit… rising occasionally to examine the enlightening, if not fascinating, forty-year-old charts of the unisex human abdomen revealed in full — though, no doubt, inaccurate — color.

And then, suddenly, the ultimate indignity — your twenty-three year old female assistant, undersecretary nurse, or whatever the hell she is, enters and tells me to strip to my waist so that I might sublimate myself to await your esteemed arrival.

She leaves me to my privacy. She gives me a pleasant smile.

It’s not a personal smile. It’s nothing at all like the “checking you out!” smiles I got from twenty-three-year-old women when I was twenty-six. It’s a smile like my granddaughter might give me if she had just met me for the first time in her life and thought I smelled funny.

She leaves, closing the door before I gather the presence of mind to ask, “When you say strip to the waist, do you mean from the top down or from the bottom up?” At my age I can’t ask a twenty-three-year-old girl something like that, anyway. I’ll wait for you, Herr Doktor!

And I wait. And I wait some more.

I want to phone my wife for support but there is no cell service here.

I peek inside the drawers. Very long q-tips; ancient, barbaric looking instruments which have uses I can’t imagine.

I play with the pump on the wall-mounted blood pressure monitor which is never used because you have newer, better ones in the bottom drawer, purchased at CVS Pharmacy.

I don’t mind that the issues of Sports Illustrated in your examination rooms are eight months old. I never read them in the first place. I’ll start now, as I conscientiously forget about my terminal earlobe cancer.

Finally, you arrive!

The door fairly bursts from it’s insignificant hinges in your ethereal presence!

“Mr. Williams!” you boom, thrown into an unearthly relief of backlit brilliance. “How are we today?”

I begin to stammer that “we” are fine but I never quite get the words past my trembling, genuflecting lips.

“I see you still haven’t lost that weight,” you intone, with a wink and a flash of a teasing smile. But I know the underlying prognosis is terminal. I’m going to die very soon because I’m fat. You told me that the last time I was here and now you’re reminding me as gently and cruelly as possible. My fault. My bad. I haven’t lost weight and now I shall die.

By the time you’ve looked in my wax-impacted ears, my decay-laden, bad-breath mouth and my relentlessly bloodshot, darting eyes…

I have no idea why I came in here to begin with.

I just want to go home. Now.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Nostalgia run amuck

As I get older and have determined as a pert-near certainty that the time of my life will never pause or reverse itself, I increasingly find I am comparing life in America when I was a child with the great fears and uncertainties of now and tomorrow.

I get a lot of emails from my contemporaries (an odd word to apply to people well past midlife) which tickle my brain to call out my happy, youthful self and to remember:

…when Mom stayed home and cooked and cleaned while I went to school and Dad brought home the bacon.

…when every breakfast was eaten at the table with the whole family there to discuss their daily plans and hopes. We’d reconvene for dinner to discuss our daily achievements.

…when we had no virtual technological distractions except for three channels of black and white small screen miracles.

–when Sundays were for church and family; when nobody had what they wanted but everybody had all they needed.

You get those emails, too. They’re fun. But maybe the most engaging ones are those which remind us how much more safe and sane our old world seemed.

We didn’t have “drive-by” random murders in the fifties and sixties. Never.

None of my friends was ever snatched off the street by a gang-banger or boogie man.

None of the kids I knew was ever physically assaulted or molested. Not that I ever heard of, anyway.

Inevitably these journeys through the past offer us wistful glances of a world that was much easier to navigate and in which we could lay our heads at night, secure in the comfort and peace of our own bedrooms, on our Spin and Marty sheets and pillow cases, and with a quiet “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep…” we could revel in the day we just lived and exalt in the gift of yet another day tomorrow. And for all the tomorrows we could imagine and more.

So, here’s how I see it.

It doesn’t matter when you were born. My four and six-year-old grandsons will have the same wondrous journeys and make the same magical memories as I did, and as did my father and grandfather before me. And fifty years from now they’ll tell their kids and grandkids how primitive life was in the early twenty-first century.

And they’ll love the memories.

No time is better than another. The magic lies in being young enough to have nothing with which to compare it.