I’ve never been too worried about my age, and I’m sure when asked “When did you first start feeling old?,” everyone can point to something different. For me, the first time I sensed a ticking clock was one day about a year ago, when I looked at my hands. See, you might look like someone out of a Bowflex ad from head to toe, but the hands don’t lie.
I can’t say time has treated me badly—if you never saw me walk, and were looking at me from a distance, you might even think I’m in my forties. Losing my hair never made me feel old—that started in my twenties, and I’ve been shaving my head for twenty years. But those hands. They have some explaining to do.
Truth is, in fifty-plus years, I had never really worked with my hands, unless you count…typing. But there they were, looking (and feeling) like they’d been on an assembly line installing tiny widgets for the last thirty years. It looked like someone had Photoshopped my stepfather’s hands onto my body. I had Larry King’s hands. Even my fingers looked old.
I think as I’ve stumbled on in later years, it seems I’ve spent about half of those years just fixing things that younger me messed up. And paying attention to the little things. Like my health. Which I had pretty much ignored. What with being afraid to go to the doctor and all.
One morning, five or six years ago, I woke up and couldn’t lift my right arm higher than my chest. No pain—I just couldn’t lift it. Now if you’re a math whiz, you know that one arm is at least half of the total number of arms you have. For a lot of people, THIS would enough to see a doctor. Not me.
Then, over the past few years, I’ve developed a fairly pronounced hitch in my stride, on account of my left leg not being on the same page as my right. We’re down to TWO working limbs, people—obviously time to call the doctor. Or not.
I’ve never been the doctor-seein’ type. First, they work in hospitals, and I hate that ‘hospital smell.’ I got my fill of it visiting Mom. I always thought it odd that Mom, who had been a nurse, was such a horrible patient. I still remember tracking down some poor beaten-down orderly to apologize for the way she made him essentially reconsider his career choices.
Odd, also, that I am so doctor-phobic, considering when I started college I was pre-med. My high school yearbook is filled with things like “I’m sure you’ll be a right-on doctor (it was 1978, after all). Nobody wrote, “Remember me when you’re a published humor essayist.” I thought ‘being a doctor’ was what you were supposed to do with a 4.0 GPA, until I realized it would mean being around sick people all the time.
But beyond that hospital smell, I had what I felt was a very rational reason for not going to the doctor–I might get bad news. Now, I KNOW that going to the doctor won’t actually CAUSE me to have some telethon-worthy disease, but it’s damn sure where I’m gonna find out if I NEED a telethon, and why would I want to know that? That’s depressing!
I don’t handle run-of-the-mill bad news well—I went into a funk when they cancelled ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer.’ I start frantically calling vets if the neighbor’s cat seems sick. I got a little weepy when Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon broke up. You get the idea. Friends usually offer some variation of “Wouldn’t you feel better knowing what’s wrong?,” to which I can definitively say, “Ummm…I’m not sure?” Sorta depends on whether ‘what’s wrong’ can be fixed, doesn’t it?
And since I didn’t pay much attention to that memo about smoking being bad for me twenty-five years ago and have had more than a few times in my life when I drank more than the USDA recommended daily allowance of vodka, I figured, why push my luck? I felt the same way about my health that I feel about the Tea Party—what little I know bothers me, and I’m not sure I want to hear any more about it.
Besides, the few times I’ve been to a clinic, I’m as bad a patient as my Mom was, I think because I watched all fifteen seasons of “ER.” So when nurses ask me questions, I throw out words like ‘contraindicated.’ I tell them I’m ‘presenting’ with certain symptoms that seem ‘consistent’ with a specific ‘pathology.’
Of course even without the medical guidance of George Clooney, I’ve got the internet. Doctors must hate WebMD. Just enter some symptoms and…click! With zero training, I can diagnose with at least twenty distinct illnesses, conditions, and syndromes I probably have. WebMD is like Wal-Mart for people with Münchausen Syndrome.
It doesn’t help that I tend to, given several plausible explanations for a symptom I’m feeling, latch onto the one most likely to be featured on an episode of “House.” I have a headache, it must be a brain tumor. I get a muscle spasm, I’m joining support groups for people with MS.
Now, if you’re following along at home, here’s where we are—I’m paranoid about my health, but at the same time I’m afraid to find out if anything might be wrong with my health. Talk about wanting to have it both ways—there’s not much point in being a hypochondriac if I’m not gonna see a doctor! I was missing out on one of the perks of thinking I’m sick—the attention!
Then it hit me. Let’s say I go to a doctor and find out I have some scary neurological weirdness (often referred to as ‘SNW’). First of all, it’s not like I have to DO anything about it. I can be every bit as careless with my health as I’ve always been! And it wouldn’t be bad ‘news,’ exactly, because it wouldn’t be news! Whatever yer fancy book learnin’ and yer computers and yer spectrographomometers tell you I have, it obviously hasn’t kicked my ass yet and I’ve clearly had it for a while.
Gotta admit, it makes a difference having The Girlfriend in my life. Beyond being someone who is willing to listen to me whine when I hurt, it’s a lot easier to face the health care boogeyman knowing someone has my back if I happen to have some made-for-tv movie affliction .
What I’m getting at (talk about burying the lead) is that I have an appointment in a couple weeks with a neurologist, which my friends assure me is a kind of doctor. Don’t get too excited–it’s just a conversation—just a couple of guys sittin’ around talking about, oh, I don’t know, degenerative neuromuscular diseases and the like. It is, however, a step. One wobbly step toward dealing with my shit. So do your worst, doc. But if I see one jar of leeches I am out of there.