Saturday, July 9, 2011

Life As We Know It

The urologist handled me gingerly, a big man with large gentle hands and, he told me, a French major in college. I was lying on the examining table, pretty much fully exposed as he poked, prodded, and went, “Hmm” several times. I was nervous. My blood pressure had shot up. “White coat syndrome,” said the nurse, shaking her head. “You gotta relax.” I was taking deep breaths and trying to quiet myself down for the possible bad news that I knew was coming. Kidney stones. Renal failure. Cancer.  The doctor snapped off his blue latex gloves, and with a look of slight concern, asked, “So, what’s the best French restaurant in the area?”

This was not a question I expected. I have not been in a French restaurant since my dad died 15 years ago. We used to go to the Pied de Cochon in Georgetown together to have riettes and paté de campagne. Now it’s a Five Guy hamburger restaurant, and a little bit of my personal history has been lost.

I pulled my pants up, cinched my belt, thought fast and suggested The Inn at Little Washington, which Travel & Leisure magazine rates as the number one restaurant in the world for food. The doctor made the universal thumb-rubbing-forefinger gesture implying the restaurant’s menu might be beyond affording even for a urologist, so we settled on the Auberge Chez Francois, which too has won several awards but does not charge you the price of a well-equipped new American-made sedan for a meal.

So I’m OK. For the nonce, things are working fairly well for a guy well into middle-age, and this is good. There are more tests scheduled for the future, something called a cystoscopy, during which I will be mostly conscious though shot full of Novocain. The friendly gourmet urologist does not expect to find anything nefarious—the test is to dot the i’s and cross the t’s.

Still, matters like this are disturbing. I’ve been healthy all my life and in the last few years, a bunch of small ills have been nipping at my heels, stuff that taken individually is meaningless but viewed collectively borders on the irksome. My dentist, commenting on the new crown I needed, said, “Teeth are a design flaw. They were never made to last as long as we do…” For all I know, this is true of kidneys, livers, lungs and, judging from some thoughts that have crossed my mind lately, brains.

The life expectancy of a white male US-born in 1930 was 58 years. The rate had climbed slowly—and dipped once or twice—every since. A white male born today can expect to live into his late 70s. But life expectancy for my age bracket in France is 77. In the US, it’s 75. Ha!

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