It started with a cramp.
No, no, no. That’s not true. It actually started much earlier.
It started with a kidnapping.
Every year, my parents avail themselves of the Multiphasic Blood Screening sponsored by the local Rotary Club. What this entails is twelve hours of Friday night fasting, followed by an early Saturday morning wake-up call. Then, a pilgrimage to the Methodist Church basement, where a flock of phlebotomists wait to drain the masses, followed by coffee and doughnuts.
This year, I was told I’d be participating as well. This wasn’t a request, although I thought I’d moved beyond the age where my parents could dictate my behavior. When I mentioned this belief, my father laughed (in the same manner he had when I was a teenager), and told me where to be and when.
And dammit, I listened.
After a fair amount of pouting over my apparent lack of self-determination, I realized the screening probably wasn’t a bad idea. I don’t take proper care of myself; the inner tube that passes as my waistline attests to this. I had visions of post-testing medications, and suddenly paid closer attention to Crestor and Lipitor commercials. I considered the possibility of local restaurants receiving my photograph attached to a warning reading “DO NOT SERVE THIS MAN!” I concocted all sorts of circumstances that might result from a comprehensive analysis of my blood, and a fast-food restriction was the best-case scenario.
But I went anyway.
I endured the requisite fasting and woke at the appointed hour, only to find my parents’ car parked in our driveway. It turns out Mom and Dad had chosen to disregard my past thirty years of responsible conduct and escort me to the church basement. My disdain wasn’t very convincing; I’d actually considered the ruse their arrival prevented.
When we arrived, the Rotary volunteer asked me which tests I wanted.
“Um, the blood test?” I said.
Her answering smile reminded me of the expression I exhibit when confronted with a customer’s request for a book “by that guy who’s on that show.” I was hip-deep in a karmic ass biting, and stared blankly at the menu of testing options offered.
As always, my father came to my rescue. “He’ll have the Multiphasic and the PSA,” he said.
“Right. Multiphasic and PSA,’ I said, adding, “And an order of fries.”
Nobody laughed. The Methodist Church basement was a tough room.
The next step was to complete a card with our physician’s name and address. While we filled in the blanks, I asked Dad, “What’s a PSA?”
“Prostate screening,” he said.
“Prostate screening? Nobody said anything about a prostate examination.” I looked for an exit. “I didn’t come prepared for a prostate exam.”
“It’s a blood test, dumb ass,” my father said. Then, he chuckled and asked, “Exactly how do you prepare for a prostate exam?”
I went back to my card.
Blood was drawn. Jokes were made. Breakfast followed. Ordeal, completed.
Yeah, like things are ever that simple.
A few weeks later, I received a call from my doctor’s office. He’d received my blood test results and wanted me to come in to discuss them. I made the appointment and spent the intervening time dreading it. Farewell red meat. Adieu burgers. Ta-ta tacos. Hello soy and tofu and bean sprouts and rabbit food and low fat, no fat, no taste hell. The image in my mirror guaranteed it. I was a middle-aged fat man with the caloric intake and nutritional ignorance of a drunken frat boy, and I was about to pay the price for years of indulgence.
And, I mused, that was if I was lucky.
There were other –darker- fears at work. I worried about conversations that began with the phrase, “Mr. Lukac, six months is a lot of time if you use it right.” I reviewed our finances. I double-checked the terms of my life insurance. I completed an outline of Oogie Boogie Breakdown in case someone else had to complete the manuscript.
I put my house in order.
My anxiety was apparent when I arrived at my appointment. My doctor laughed when he saw my expression and handed me the report. Then, he explained it.
Good cholesterol? High. Bad cholesterol? Low. Potassium, iodine, white cells, red cells, blood sugar, English, math, science, etc.? All within the acceptable norms. In short, I held in my hands a clean bill of health.
Hallelujah! I ran out of the office and flooded the cellular system with the news of my surprising wellbeing. My wife, my children and my parents all responded to my declaration of fitness with identical reserved enthusiasm, but only my mother asked if I had a copy of the results to back up my claim.
I’d anticipated the skepticism and had a Xerox tucked into my briefcase.
I sat in the car for a while before heading home. No one was more astonished than I was. I won’t say I offered up a prayer of thanks, but I managed a spiritual fist-bump, grateful for the news I’d just received.
It felt like the end of a thirty-month rollercoaster ride that began when my family and I escaped the foul, dank pit that had been our home for eleven years. I’ve never shared the story of our extended exodus from a rented duplex to a house of our own because some horrors are too gruesome for publication. However, I will say that the second half of my life will always fall into one of two epochs: Before we moved out of the moldy rental with even moldier neighbors, and after.
After our move, my wife and I stabilized our finances, rediscovered our relationship and enjoyed the too-often ignored simple pleasures of staying at home (having the goofy Gestapo next door will do that to you). Now, with proof of my health firmly in hand, I felt as if I had accomplished everything I needed to in order to relish my continued existence.
I said so to a co-worker the next day when she asked how my appointment went. In fact, I said, “I’m the healthiest, forty-six year-old fat man I know.” I even posted the quote on my Twitter.
What I didn’t Tweet was what I said next: “With my luck, I’ll probably step off the curb and get hit by a bus. Or, have a heart attack.”
If only I had known.
But Then Again, You’ll Have This…