When I was younger, I seldom saw a doctor. There were a couple of exceptions when I was in college. One was an act of self-mutilation that required 12 stitches in my leg. The other was a sprained ankle incurred by tearing the Greek letters from a sorority house and falling off the roof (Southern Comfort is a helluva drug). Both resulted in pricey hospital bills. Neither bill was ever paid.
After graduating, I steered clear of doctors because I didn’t have any insurance. For the first few years, I simply couldn’t afford it. When I got a better job and could pay for coverage, I didn’t want to. I much preferred to spend my discretionary income on booze and speed.
In 1989, I had a doctor confirm that I had indeed contracted hepatitis A. Dad picked up the tab for that. In 1992, I decided to go for a 3 am walk while high on weed, booze, coke, speed, and ecstasy. A mugger bashed me in the face after I ignored his demand to give him all my money. A plastic surgeon sewed my upper lip back together courtesy of the City and County of San Francisco. They footed the bill because I was a victim of violent crime who had never been convicted of a drug offense (the operative word here is convicted).
I mellowed in my thirties, got married, and did nothing bad but drink. Jobs with full benefits followed, but I stayed away from doctors nonetheless. They were for sick people and apart from frequent hangovers, I was the picture of health. I did have to get a medical exam prior to scuba diving in Malta in 2001. It’s a requirement there and to my knowledge, the only place in the world with that rule. It’s a useless regulation no doubt pushed into law by the medical lobby. The physician who looked me over grumbled something about my blood pressure then stopped pretending to give a shit when I handed him money to make him go away.
A few months shy of my 40th birthday, I found myself single again. While some divorced men in a midlife crisis go out and buy a red sports car, I opted for spending as much time as possible in no condition to drive. I had never been a teetotaler in my adult life other than the year following my bout with hepatitis, but my drinking had turned into something both nightly and excessive. I also started doing drugs again.
“Fuck it,” I reasoned.
I quit everything but drinking and cigarettes when I was 45 and quit smoking at 46, but the booze intake continued unabated. I was now in my early 50s and starting to wonder how much damage I had done to myself. Were my lungs riddled with tumors? Had my liver transformed into a cirrhotic lump of salt pork? I founding myself wanting to know if I should bother saving for retirement.
I finally relented and went to have a physical. Amazingly, my liver was fine. My only problems were that I weighed too much and my blood pressure was too high. The weight problem could be dealt with by a healthier diet (or ignoring it, which I did). I suppose I could haveignored the BP issue as well. I had known about it for decades and to be honest, one of the reasons I stayed away from doctors was they kept bringing up my blood pressure.
I was prescribed a diuretic and agreed to take it daily rather than continue to pretend my BP was fine until a stroke became my wake-up call. In my 20s, I used to contort one side of my face and say, “I haven’t had a stroke. What makes you think I’ve had a stroke?” I thought it was hilarious and still do, but like most of my humor, I find it less funny when it happens to me.
With a change of jobs came a change of doctor and blood-pressure meds. My weight continued to climb because I prefer food to getting off my ass. I would have stayed in blissful denial about it until diabetes or a heart attack was my wake-up call, if it weren’t for one thing: The doctor called me obese.
That stung. “Obese” is such an ugly word. I should know. In high school history class , I wrote “MRS. SCOTT IS AN OBESE BITCH” in big letters on a sheet of notebook paper and waved it in front of the other students when the corpulent teacher had her back turned. The only saving grace is that my doctor speaks with an accent and puts the stress on the first syllable, as in Wan Kenobi et al.
I dropped enough weight to rid myself of the dreaded O word. As long as my periodic blood tests show a healthy liver, I should be able to drink as much as I want.
Or maybe not. My blood-pressure medication isn’t working as well as it used to. My doctor prescribed a stronger dose. With luck, that’ll do the trick. What if it doesn’t? I know I can’t get away with as much as I used to, but I hope I haven’t reached that point in life where I can’t get away with anything. I’m not ready for that fork in the road where my choices are boring longevity and whisky-and-cheeseburgering myself to an early grave.