These days, going to the doctor for a checkup is like being shot at by someone – the best you can hope for is that he misses, and you end up the same as you were before.
I don’t know why people voluntarily go to the doctor for such a thing. When you think about it, you’re infantilizing yourself. You’re saying, in effect, “I don’t know how I am, Doc – you tell me.”
I know how I feel. I feel great. Oh, I know that theoretically, I could be harboring the beginning of some horrible metastatic cancer, but that’s extremely unlikely, and it’s even unlikelier that medicine could do anything to help me. So I’m not gonna worry about it. I already know I have to die. There’s a long history of death in my family. Every single one of my ancestors had one thing in common – they all died of something,
Nevertheless, I recently accepted a position overseas, and the NGO that is sponsoring me required me to get a thorough physical examination. So off to the doctor’s I went.
The office was located in a nondescript brick building on Falls Road. A sign in the waiting room proclaimed IF YOU ARE COUGHING OR SNEEZING YOU WILL BE ASKED TO WEAR A MASK FOR THE PROTECTION OF THE OTHER PATIENTS AND STAFF. An obese woman at the front desk took my insurance information, and I was ushered into the examining room.
The doctor was a young Indian woman, rail-thin, chipper, brisk, efficient, and businesslike. She took my personal information – no medications, no smoking, less than one glass of wine a day, six cups of coffee every morning, two hours and twenty minutes of exercise every day. She looked at my eyes, my ears, my chest, my abdomen, tested the strength in my arms and legs, and then she left the room. An obese woman came in to take an EKG. She seemed inexperienced and unsure of herself, and another obese woman had to come in and help her.
Afterwards, I was escorted to the lab, where yet another obese woman took blood and urine samples, and I was sent off to the diagnostic center just up the road for a chest X-ray.
The place looked like a luxury resort, with not one but two koi ponds, one with a fountain, and both surrounded by luxurious gardens that exploded in a riot of colors. Two Mexican groundskeepers were hard at work as I entered “Pavillion I” and stepped into an atrium with high vaulted ceilings, deeply burnished wood pillars, and, for my convenience, a Seattle’s Best Coffee bar, just in case I hadn’t had my daily six cups.
I took the elevator up to the waiting room, which featured another sign informing onlookers that anyone who was coughing or sneezing would be “asked” to wear a mask. What a bunch of fearful little mice we have become, I thought to myself, as another obese woman took my insurance information. Still another obese woman took the X-rays, and we were done.
I left scratching my head. The whole enterprise is supposed to be about health and wellness, and yet I saw precious little evidence of that.
Nevertheless, there was a lot riding on the outcome. I had already told the four universities where I teach that I would not be returning this fall. If I were judged medically unfit for the assignment, I would be unemployed, my health insurance would be canceled, and I would be driven into bankruptcy and permanent unemployability.
So you can imagine my relief two days later when I received a clean bill of health. What’s that Winston Churchill said? Oh yes – nothing is as exhilarating as being shot at without result.
Illustration via National Library of Medicine