Telltale Signs

Just as an evening chill in the air and the turning of leaves from green to gold signal the coming of fall, the approach of a 50th birthday has its own unmistakable harbingers. One came for me this week, as I contemplated a first:

My first colonoscopy.

Open wide and say "ahhh."

The subject was broached as I went for my annual check-up, which confirmed I am in damn fine shape, thank you very much. For an anxiety-laden hypochondriac beset with inexplicable chronic pains throughout his body. Who’s been putting on weight. And –

What’s this? Let me try that again, the good doc goes…and now the other arm. Ah, yes, no doubt. Your blood pressure is above normal. And both your parents had/have hypertension, you say? Well, here, have this list of salty foods to avoid, and no caffeine and less alcohol, please. Funny, vegetarians/vegans don’t usually have this problem. Anyway, get yourself a monitor and keep a daily tab of where it stands. Oh, and lose that extra weight and exercise more, while you’re at it…

You sure that sphygmomanometer is working right?

So that’s what it’s going to be like, eh?

The next phase of the Crisis has begun, or accelerated – that slow, steady decline into decrepitude. The weight thing wasn’t bad enough, right? Or the two-hour-each, so-far-fruitless visits to the PT to try to figure out why my hip hurts so much, and then maybe alleviate some of the pain. Now I have to cut out salt and go easy on the booze?

The salt thing, oddly, is the more distressing. I’ve always used my salt with a light touch, knowing my parents’ history. Though lately, I’d put in a little more as I cooked, to bring out the other flavors I was melding. And since the blood pressure was always normal before, who looked at the sodium content on the processed foods we commonly eat? I mean, the canned stuff we get is healthy – artichoke hearts and all-veggie broth, with no fat, and diced tomatoes, just simple diced tomatoes…with a sodium count that nearly made me gag when I checked the label. I tore through cabinets, the refrigerator, freezer, and my worst fears were confirmed: Yeah, we may not eat a lot of processed foods, and they may be basically healthy, but they were salt stealth bombs, ready to trigger some maybe-not-so-far-off heart attack.

So, cut out favorite foods, get some wand stuck up my butt – what else would confirm the senility and fragility just around the corner? Well, this week’s snowstorm, for one. I have always loved snow, the idea of it, of impending blizzards promising white-outs and hushed streets and walks in the woods to hear the sound of snow falling on bare trees. Now, part of my pleasure comes from knowing that I don’t have to brave slick roads and crazy drivers to get to work. But even in Chicago, where we had no garage and a snowstorm meant digging out the car and dealing with the jerks who claim their shoveled roadside posts with odd assortments of patio furniture and basement detritus, I loved the snow.

And if the salt don't git ya, the shovelin' just might...

But something odd happened yesterday. As I shoveled the piddling amount we got, and realized there was no way we would get the 12 inches forecast that morning, I was not upset. Yes, in the past I felt gypped when the snow totals fell short of the mark, angry even when the nor’easter took a right turn to sea or veered inland to bring us just rain. Standing there, shovel in hand, I was just…


And for the first time, I understood the allure of cultural wastelands (large swaths of Florida) and waterless hellholes (Phoenix) and right-wing enclaves (San Diego) for the elderly. Year-round warmth. No snow. Natural therapy for aching bones. I, I even imagined myself transformed, from a somewhat with-it East Coast urbanite into a….snowbird.

In that instant, holding the shovel, my rear tightening just a bit with the thought of  the probe to come, I knew I was old.

And I didn’t want to be.

I wanted to be, hell, I don’t know, 40. That wasn’t a bad age. Newly married, happy with my job, feeling so much goodness still awaited me. Or 25, newly divorced, thank god, finally dating a younger woman, no signs of cancer on the horizon, playwriting still a distant urge. No, better, make it 10. I want to be 10! When all I had to worry about was schoolwork I passed with ease, deciding which sport to play in my free time, or which TV show to watch, or where to eat first on Sunday mornings, home, or next door at my grandparents. 10. Life was so simple then.

OK, I know the childhood idyll is an illusion. At 10, I was fat; the man boobs shown here prove it. And if I were 10, I’d have to relive the agony of adolescence, the frustration around girls and the running from police – only once, thankfully –  and the uncertainty of what to do with the rest of my life. And I’d still have to go through the divorce, and another, and the aborted engagement and assorted other unpleasantries.

And you know what? I’d still end up 50 and thinking about colonoscopies and rising blood pressure and unfulfilled dreams (didn’t need an annual exam to stare that one in the face.) Yes, there is a natural order to this thing called life. Doesn’t mean I have to like it. The order, that is; life, I love that, despite the caterwauling.

50 is less than a month a way. I don’t know what I‘ll do on that day. My plan was to take a writer‘s retreat, but now the thought of isolation on that birthday, and for the entire week, seems too depressing. I need to be around people, younger people, happy people. Maybe a day trip to New York City. Or a getaway to Chicago. Or maybe a visit to a place where smiling, helpful people want me only to relax, lie down, feel no pain.

So they can shove a wand up my butt.



~ by mburgan on February 11, 2010.

10 Responses to “Telltale Signs”

  1. I like reading this and laughing…trust me the wand is the easiest part of the procedure…i have a physical in a couple of weeks..damn..and I have some aches in my knees that won’t go away,

  2. Believe me, you won’t remember that wand at all. It occurred to me while painting my living room that colonoscopys were just like painting a room – the prep is the hardest part.

  3. ps – loved the man boob shot. Hee hee.

  4. Yeah, I’m starting to get that impression about the prep…

  5. You made me laugh out loud! I turned 50 a month ago…. You’re right, it does make me feel old, too!

  6. Laughter is always a good thing–especially as we age…

  7. Made 50 sound promising compared to 10 and 25. Don’t forget about the prostate exam Mike. No wand, just a finger and a blood test. Great writing.

  8. Ah, the finger is old news–they’ve been doing that for years. Though it was a little odd the first time my female doc did it. Thanks for the compliment and for reading.

  9. Colonoscopies, mammograms, speculums… ahh… isn’t 50 grand?

  10. I should have written about the scope itself–not nearly as bad as everyone made it out to be ,and such wonderful drugs!

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