This initially appeared in my zine The Inner Swine 16(1/2).
The Brain Cloud Cometh
I’m at “That Age”
by Jeff Somers
PIGS, I don’t go to doctors much. Part of this is my Viking heritage (buried deeply in my genetic code, yes, but I am convinced it’s there), which makes me naturally hardy. Part of this is the usual charming male hubris that informs me that I can walk anything off. Lose a limb? Walk it off, hands on your hips, taking deep breaths. Coughed up a lung? Take the bench for an inning, you’ll be fine. Part of it, of course, is my general incompetence and bad memory: I am usually shocked to discover when my last doctor’s appointment was.
Also: How awkward. I mean, I’m terrible at social interaction as it is. Make me naked under a thin hospital gown while another man cops a feel, and my small talk just dries the hell up, trust me.
My infrequent visits to the various doctors we need to stay alive from year to year used to be more or less perfunctory: My old General Practitioner, whom I’d gone to from the age of five until I was about 25, used to tell me to keep the weight off and to never smoke cigarettes, and that was usually the entire content of our conferences. Even past that I usually coasted through examinations: I was either there for a specific reason, burrowing towards a prescription and getting on with my life, or I was there for some sort of routine physical, generally passing with flying colors. Recently, though, while my visits are still not exactly complex or problematic, there’s a new wrinkle cropping up: My advancing age.
I’m not old. I mean, I don’t think so; age is relative and if I’m going to get hit by the #89 bus in Jersey City next week (or smashed up in my Own Personal Intersection of Death in Highland Park, new Jersey) then, in a sense, I am old, relatively. But I’m still young and hip, I think. But I’m edging up to that magical age when doctors apparently change their entire approach, because more and more when I go to the doctor I’m being told that in a “couple of years” the tests I’m given will all change. Overnight, apparently, I will be old, and the focus will cease to be keeping me healthy and simply be keeping me comfortable. Or something like that.
For example, I recently realized it’s been 5 years since I had my eyes examined, and I was squinting my way through life like Mr. Magoo (you youngin’s can Google him). The examination went more or less as expected, until one point where the doctor suddenly looked off into the distance and began discussing me as if I wasn’t in the room.
DOC: Of course, in a couple of years we’ll have to start testing to see if you need bifocals.
DOC: Assuming you don’t die before then, of course. Odds are, after all, that you will.
DOC: DO YOU NEED ME TO SPEAK MORE LOUDLY, SIR?
This is disturbing. I look in the mirror and I think I look pretty much exactly like I did when I was eighteen. Maybe a bit of gray hair, a little careworn, and the way my liver bulges out of my side like a football is, perhaps, not ideal. But still, I think I could time travel back to my college days and kill myself and take his place pretty easily, and paradox be damned.
The worst example of this was when my current GP told me, very matter-of-factly, that in a “couple of years” we’d stop groping my testicles to test for testicular cancer and start testing for prostate problems. The implications of this were allowed to hang in the air like a thick mist of shame, and naturally I wanted to protest in the boldest possible terms that I was not that age yet. Who am, I Rudy Guiliani? Joe Torre?
It’s natural, of course; As you get older your physical state declines and your chances of coming down with horrible defects increases, but at the same time if you make it a certain length of existence without coming down with certain things, chances are you won’t, so the tests have to change. It’s just the transition from Check-for-Young-Man’s-Afflictions to Check-If-he’s-Still-Breathing is kind of horrifying. It makes you want to follow doctors around, begging them to palpate your testicles to check for testicular cancer.
Another aspect of this are the new and absolutely terrifying tests you start to grow into. Suspect number one in this grimy list is the Colonoscopy: You hit a certain age, you’re supposed to let someone shove a camera up your ass every few years to check for polyps or tumors or elves living secretly inside you or something. Not only does this sound horrible, eye-witness (ass-witness?) accounts confirm it: It’s uncomfortable, humiliating, and the side effects last for days. Side-effects here being a polite euphemism for uncontrollable bowel-movements.
My own personal nightmare, however, centers on that inevitable day when a doctor gives me a choice between living and drinking—you know, that moment when he’s holding up an X-Ray or something of my liver and I initially mistake it for a basketball in a bowl of Jello and we laugh and laugh and then he tells me to quit drinking or I’ll be dead in a month and we cry and cry.
He spent fifteen years getting loaded
Fifteen years ’till his liver exploded
Now what’s Bob gonna do now that he can’t drink?
The doctor said, “What you been thinkin’ ’bout?”
Bob said, “That’s the point,
I won’t think about nothing
Now I gotta do something else,”
Getting old is a bitch, chums.