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In My Next Life: “The Test” for over 50 (you know the one)

Posted By Karen Young On December 3, 2009 @ 12:26 am In Features,In My Next Life,spotlight | 5 Comments

davidnicholsBY DAVID NICHOLS

I used to be pretty good.  I went to our family doctor for a physical every year.  He’d take some blood, then poke and prod me while we both complained about the insurance companies.  A couple of weeks later he’d call me and say, “Everything’s great.  Keep doing whatever you’re doing.”  What I was doing was eating red meat, drinking Scotch, and smoking cigars, so it wasn’t a difficult regimen to maintain.  Then he discovered things weren’t so great with my now-late wife.  His attention and mine turned to monitoring her health and my own became a non-issue.

Now, several years later, it’s a new life and time to start paying attention again.  N., The Boy, and My Beautiful Grown Daughter maintain a sprightly pace and I’m expected to keep up.  So I go back to my doctor.  He takes some blood, pokes and prods me while we both complain about the insurance companies and then…he says it.  “Now that you’re over fifty it’d be a good idea for you to have….” Well, I won’t use the word because I don’t want to frighten any male readers.  I’ll just call it “The Test” and say it’s roughly equivalent to the mammograms women are subjected to, except it’s much worse because it’s happening to us.

My doctor refers me to a specialist who turns out to be a guy about my age.  That’s good.  Just as many women prefer a female gynecologist, I figure this guy will be sensitive to my concerns and handle the situation with discretion and respect.  “This the first time you’ve ever been to a butt doctor?” he asks.  So much for discretion and respect.  Still, I guess if you’re going to specialize in that particular field you’d better have a sense of humor.  He goes on to explain in the same scientific yet cozy, reassuring manner that before The Test itself I’ll have to drink a gallon of some thoroughly nasty-tasting stuff.  “Then, while I’m looking around we’ll give you some really cool drugs.  You’ll feel like you’ve had a few drinks so you’ll need somebody to drive you home.  The whole thing should take about an hour.”

Now, I’ve had enough experience with hospitals to know the only thing you can actually do there in an hour is finish reading a six-month old copy of U.S. News and World Report while waiting to be called for an appointment that was supposed to take place ninety minutes ago.  But this guy’s the expert so I pass along the info to N., who arranges her schedule for T-Day accordingly.

The day before The Test I report to CVS to pick up the notorious elixir.  The pharmacist hands me a jug about the size and shape of a gasoline can and instructs me to mix the powder in it with water, then drink eight ounces of it every fifteen minutes till it’s gone.  “It tastes pretty bad,” she adds with a perky smile.

Back home, I take my first slug of the stuff.  It more than lives up to its reputation.  I check to make sure they didn’t in fact give me a gasoline can by mistake.  No such luck.  N. has explained to The Boy what I’m doing and why.  He finds the whole thing fascinating and highly entertaining.  “Does it taste really bad?” he asks, hopefully.  Not wanting to traumatize him into avoiding The Test later in his life, I say,  “It’s not that bad.  Kind of like greasy salt water.”  He looks at me dubiously.  I realize I’ve just implied I don’t mind drinking greasy salt water and that he’s adding that to his long mental list of my eccentricities.  “Actually, it’s pretty awful,” I confess.  That seems to cheer him up.

Later, My Beautiful Grown Daughter stops by.  She’s unaware of what’s going on, so The Boy eagerly fills her in.  “He has to drink laxative and they’re gonna stick a tube up his butt!”  My Beautiful Grown Daughter immediately expresses her concern for my well-being.  “Eeww!” she says.  “Why do you have to have that test?” The Boy asks.  Before I can deliver my instructive answer about the importance of preventive medicine My Beautiful Grown Daughter chimes in.  “Because he’s old.”  The Boy agrees.  “Yeah, you’re old.”  They then proceed to regale each other with a series of appropriately inappropriate sound effects.  An interesting phenomenon occurs whenever the two of them get together.  My Beautiful Grown Daughter sheds a decade and merges with The Boy to form a single uber-adolescent presence.  It’s astonishing to behold.  Unless you’re me, in which case it’s just a pain in the neck.

Next morning I arrive at the hospital already cranky from having not eaten for eighteen hours.  A nurse brings me into a consulting room to take my medical history.  It’s the same room a doctor brought me into to deliver some very bad news about my late wife.  Not an auspicious beginning.  And it goes downhill from there.  A second nurse pops into the waiting room to inform us the doctor’s running an hour late and there’s another patient ahead of me.  They take N.’s cell phone number and say they’ll call her when she needs to come back – probably in about three hours.  This isn’t what she’s planned for, but she squeezes my hand, gives me a kiss, and wishes me good luck.

While I’m waiting around in my backless gown, a heated discussion breaks out among several nurses regarding who’s responsible for what under some new work rules.  A supervisor arrives, suspends two of them for “being disruptive,” and sends them home.  The others grumble that their shift is now understaffed.  Perfect.  I’m about to have a Very Delicate Procedure overseen by a shorthanded gang of angry RNs.

Finally, a doctor arrives and begins to examine me.  This would be progress except he’s not my doctor.  And he’s examining a part of me that I’m pretty certain isn’t involved in The Test.  “I’m not sure I’m your patient,” I say.  His real patient is the guy one gurney over.  He’s had major surgery and now there are complications.  He needs help way more than I do, so I’m hoping his doctor notices he’s half my age and African-American.  It’s a good way to tell us apart.

At last the big moment arrives, as does my actual doctor.  Somehow they’ve rounded up enough nurses to roll me where I need to go, and after a couple more well-rehearsed butt jokes we’re underway.  This part, at least, is as advertised.  Whatever they’re dripping into my bloodstream is making me happier than I’ve been in two days.  So much so that when my digestive system shows up on a monitor in living color I find it the most interesting thing I’ve seen on television since The Sopranos.

Next thing I know the doctor’s waking me up in the recovery room.  “Didn’t find a thing,” he says.  “Keep doing whatever you’re doing and I’ll see you in ten years.”  And that’s that.  A nurse tells me they’re having some trouble finding N., but they’ll keep looking while I get dressed.  Meanwhile, it’s time for the surgery patient who’s not me to go home too.  There’s no one to drive him so he asks the nurse to call a taxi.  I head for the dressing room and find N. standing outside.  Turns out she’d been there all along.  It just took her a minute to realize that when they were calling for “Mrs. Nichols” they were looking for her, what with that not being her name and all.

“How’d it go?” she asks.

“He said everything’s great.  I should just keep doing what I’m doing.”

“Like drinking Scotch and smoking cigars?”

“Pretty much.”

She gives me a beautiful, indulgent smile.  “Go put some clothes on.”

And as I do it occurs to me that not everyone here will be leaving with a clean bill of health and permission to keep doing what they’re doing.  Not everyone will be driving home with somebody who’s rearranged her entire day in order to be there.  Not everyone will have children to distract them with good-natured needling when they have to take their medicine.  And when Thanksgiving rolls around a few days later, not everyone will have such an easy time making a list  of things to be grateful for.

David Nichols is a TV writer/producer who has worked on such shows as “Caroline In The City”, “Grace Under Fire”, and “Evening Shade.” He has never used the word “butt” so frequently in any of his previous writing and promises never to do so again.

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