When you hit the big 5-0, your doctor will prod you into coming back annually for another physical. Now I know why. It is because no matter how healthy you think you are, by the time you are fifty something your doctor is bound to find something he doesn’t like.
If you are fifty something, be grateful if the doctor finds just one thing. I emerged from my annual physical last week with a long list of appointments and prescriptions. Of course, just the afternoon before I had been at the gym. I had gone through a routine of an hour of aerobics followed by pressing many weights. I do this three or four times a week. If it were biking season, I would get even more exercise. So what is with all these tests and prescriptions? I thought I inhabited the world of the very healthy.
What happened is I became a fifty-plus American. Things are bound to be less than optimal because, well, I am fifty-plus. Actually, I am 51. Maybe I could be healthier. Maybe if I had spent much of my life as a vegetarian my cholesterol would not be high. On the other hand, maybe it would not be high if I hadn’t eaten eggs for breakfast every day for a year. Supposedly high cholesterol should not be that big an issue if your HDL level is relatively low, which mine was, which was supposed to be the magic of eating eggs. My doctor still did not like the numbers. The solution was more exercise and less cholesterol. I could get more exercise but I felt like I got plenty already. Nor do I actually eat that much meat, and what I do eat is mostly boneless chicken. I now I eat eggs maybe once a week. So far, I have avoided statins but I have a feeling they are in my future.
While the doctor was using his stethoscope, he paused when he pressed it up to my left carotid artery. He wasn’t hearing the same thing on the right carotid artery. It could be a sign of cholesterol buildup in the left carotid artery. This is a bad place to have cholesterol build up, of course, since if the build up dislodged it would take a beeline into my brain and possibly cause a stroke. So now on my agenda for Thursday is a Carotid Echo Doppler exam.
These were just the start. The doctor also took an EKG and frowned when he showed me the result. It seems I have a case of Poor R-Wave Progression. This could be caused by lots of things including heart disease or it could be nothing. So Wednesday I have an appointment with a cardiologist. Me? The same guy who when he exercises routinely gets above 130 beats per minute and sustains it for thirty to sixty minutes?
Doctors are one of the few people who have permission to touch me in private spots. The doctor was manipulating one of my more private of private spots and I went “ouch”. You are not supposed to say ouch when he manipulates this part. He gave me a prescription for Cipro to cure a likely infection down there and sent me for an ultrasound. Thus, today I found someone else, a female this time, touching me in one of my private spots. Fortunately, they found nothing worse than an enlarged varicose vein.
Next, I confessed that sometimes I felt like I had trouble swallowing. This concerned me because my mother died of Progressive Supranuclear Palsy and this is a classic PSP symptom. I was wondering if this might be an early symptom of PSP. My doctor had no idea what PSP was (he is only a family doctor, after all) but before I could argue he had written an order for me to see a neurologist. It turns out that virtually every neurologist in my county is affiliated with my wife’s employer, so I will see one of their experts next week. I hope that there is nothing to worry about there. There are worse ways to die, but watching my Mom go through it, I sure do not want to go through it too.
Then there was the longstanding problem of numbness in my right foot. It hadn’t completely gone away and recurred after lifting weights, which makes sense because that was when I applied a lot of pressure to my feet. I probably should not be lifting those kinds of weights. I did learn more than I wanted to know from my doctor about foot disorders, specifically that you could get the equivalent of carpal tunnel syndrome in your feet. For me it is back to the shoe insert that my podiatrist gave me some years ago.
While he was examining my feet, I pointed out a small amount of toenail fungus. I mentioned I had tried many things and never gotten rid of it. One thing I had not tried was Lamisil, probably because it is so freaking expensive that insurance companies will not pay for it unless it is first confirmed by a test. I am waiting for the lab results. Ninety days later, I hope that I will be cured.
The nitrate levels in my urine were high. That wasn’t good but he will just monitor that for a while. As for Vitamin D, I need more: 1000 mg. a day. This is a hazard from being a cubicle dweller during the day. Maybe I also need to take walks outside during my lunch hour.
Physicals are doubtless beneficial because they help address issues when they are relatively small and can be rectified. Yet, I also find them unwelcome because they remind me that I am an aging American in my decline. Overall, I have enjoyed remarkable health, but age is catching up with me. This suggests that at my next physical, I will have more issues and maladies like these. They will be a recurring feature of the rest of my life. As if drooping skin, grey hair and age spots were not enough.
Thus far, I have gotten through the aging process by mostly denying it. I assumed that with a decent diet and plenty of exercise I could maintain something resembling youth virtually forever. Now it is clear that I must disabuse myself of my foolish notion. Perhaps when these medical issues feel routine rather than exceptional I will feel less irritable with my aging process.
All I know is that nature is telling me that Madison Avenue was wrong. There is no fountain of youth, not even for me. I too must grapple with my aging and my slow decline. I cannot change it; I can only accept it.
This time, my follow up is in three months.