What’s up, Doc?

Before going to my doctor, I reminisce fondly about the time before. I went to him about 16 months ago for a lump on my back that was bugging me out. Of course I don’t reminisce about the examination, I reminisce about the good news, the clean bill of health, the note to watch my salt intake in an offhand casual way that translated as “I had to find something to say. You’re fine!”

To paraphrase Bart Simpson’s views on church, leaving a reasonably successful doctor’s appointment is the best feeling in the world, because it’s the longest period of time before more doctor’s office.  

Preach, Bart.

I casually mentioned my success at the doctor’s for a while. I’ve just been to the doctor and he says I’m fit as a fiddle. As with many time-sensitive references, I am eventually betrayed by grammar. If I’m being honest, I’ve just been … becomes I was just at my doctor’s and eventually falls into I was just there a couple of months ago… and then, for grammatical accuracy, the just has to be removed. I was at my doctor’s a few months and he said….

What will happen is that my memory of his words become slightly distorted. “Your bloodwork is all good” becomes “Your bloodwork is perfect” and then “Your blood could be used to fuel an F-16 Falcon and lubricate Walk Disney back from the dead.”

In order to not have to visit the doctor very often, I gather small ailments and physical issues and put them on something of a medical laundry list. This has become more difficult since moving in with a partner, whose penchant for remembering mention of these small ailments is second to her ability to remember something I promised to do while sleeping. My ailments were followed up on on a weekly basis until I finally supported my resistance with a last ditch effort/pseudo-fact that going to the doctor in a pandemic is sort of counterintuitive. That’s where all the sick people are going, after all, and couldn’t I just forget about my minor ailments by visiting the pub next door? This hope was destroyed by unignorably itchy rashes on both elbows and I was left with no choice. In any event my question had been answered with a “no” and I finally went to my doctor, having decided that even if the doctor tells me I’m going to die, I’ll have blessed peace for the twenty minute metro ride it takes me to get there.    

There’s nobody in the doctor’s office today. I wear a mask and don’t touch anything. The magazines look unmoved. They date to February. The nurse calls me in and I sit with her for a few minutes while she updates some information in my file as I brutalize the Czech language. She is kind and always gives me little excuses for my slightly-high blood pressure. “Well, you walked up that hill to get here, didn’t you? Sure, that’ll do it. And you’re a bit nervous about getting your blood pressure done, right?” As bloodwork is done between 7-8 am in this office, she and I have spent time together in the wee hours. She has told me how I am good at getting blood withdrawn and how she was happy that I’d lost weight. When I came for my vaccinations to visit Ethiopia and Japan, she told me how she envied my trips and, true to her remarkable memory and interest in her patients, asked me how they were when she saw me months after the facts. I love her.

My first doctor in the Czech Republic was Dr. Šašek. He was a lovable man who towered over me and who smoked Winstons out of his window in between patients. He was at a private clinic that catered to English speakers, and so he was used to what he considered dainty westerners. Unless I had a gaping wound or a rash, he typically discounted my concerns as the hysterical hypochondria of a coddled westerner. And I will never forget him standing above me and telling me in a voice half Johnny Cash and half Marlon Brando that what I really needed was a good blowjob and a shot of homemade slivovice. “I can help you with one of those, but not the other.”

Dr. Šašek died about a year ago and it made me reminiscent for the days when I lived a far unhealthier lifestyle, but had age on my side. I drank a lot more alcohol and ate like 15th century pregnant royalty. Exercise for me at the time was carrying two bags of groceries while waiting for the lift. However, my body and its organs were still coated in the armor called “I’m thirty four.” So when Dr. Šašek used his dismissive tone I nodded and agreed, fully aware that I was taking the easy way out. I usually wouldn’t take Dr. Šašek’s offer of a slivovice (I swear that was the one and not the other), but I would leave his office and have a shot and a beer in the pub downstairs to celebrate my quasi-earned bill of health. I want to be put at ease, but I want to be examined first.

My current doctor is a very nice man, but he has the air of a person who is all business, who does not want his time wasted. I respect this. According to doctors, men are guilty of the Columbo Phenomenon, wherein they will tiptoe through a list of issues only to turn while leaving and say, “oh just one more thing” which turns out to be real reason for their visit. This male tendency will surprise nobody who has witnessed a 16 year old boy buy a box of condoms (and 19 bits of superfluous stationery and toiletries) at the CVS. I may have employed this tactic in the past, but nowadays I go with a list and have an agenda.

I’m 45 years old and decide that not only does the doctor not have time to waste, but neither do I. As well, my elbows are driving me insane. We greet, engage in the smallest of talks about our families in COVID, and in the nanosecond lull that followed he prompts me to speak with a flip of his hands. I present my laundry list. I point to my elbows, I answer his questions honestly. Together we unwittingly pop the clogged sweat gland in my groin. I tell him about a weird thing that’s happening to my eyes post-workout and again I answer his questions honestly.

“How old are you these days?” he asks.

I answer.

I live a far healthier lifestyle now than I did throughout my thirties. I don’t drink nearly as much. My diet is that of 15th century royalty’s impoverished gluten-allergic handmaid. I exercise five times a week, not counting wanks or aggressive rants about Republicans. Despite all that, my age is now a becoming a disadvantageous factor. The “I’m thirty four” armor on my body and organs is being replaced by a sticky goo called “I’m in my mid-forties.”

I combat this reality by advocating my health. “I feel great, though. I’m in much better shape than I ever have ….” Amid my overly effusive advocacy of my wellbeing he casts a few glances at my belly and makes notes.

“How old are you?”

I tell him.

He asks more questions that I still answer honestly, but with less enthusiasm. I know we’re getting closer to the time when his finger is going to become intimate with my rectum, but it’s not yet. He suggests routine blood tests again in the fall and I agree wholeheartedly, indeed, because the fall is not now and that’s all that matters. As for my other issues, he sees nothing worth being concerned about. More importantly, he decides this after a thorough exam.

I leave the doctor’s office enthused and hold onto the energy for nostalgia purposes later on. I sit on a bench in the park and read my book for ten minutes and celebrate the longest period of time before more doctor office.  

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