Jim Bishop: Aging like fine wine, except I don’t drink

It’s definitely hard for me to do – to sit in a small, florescent-lit room, waiting – waiting for the door to slowly open and the man in white to enter and likely say, “How are you doing today?”

Having this question answered is precisely why I undergo this ritual every year about this time.

I’m at my primary care physician’s office for my annual – not diagnostic, thankfully – physical exam. For the next little while, Dr. Roussel will beat on me with a (soft) hammer, massage my feet and do some things I’d best not repeat. I brought my yellow legal pad with me, thinking that some column idea might emerge.

I’ve somehow gotten into a pattern of having this important procedure done at the worst possible time of year – immediately after the holidays when once again I allowed my taste buds to run rabid. Last summer, through regular swimming and other vigorous exercise, I’d attained my goal weight of 160 pounds. On my weigh-in today, the scales that don’t lie screamed out, “You’ve gained 15 pounds!” That’s heavy-duty bad news. The good news – my blood pressure and pulse, were “normal” for my age.

Right on the spot I vowed to return to a lightweight 160. It has to happen, for my own well-being, but why must it be more difficult with each passing year?

The wait continues. A tinge of anxiety ripples through my person, as much related to knowing things that await my attention back at work as to what lies ahead in this lonely, spartan examining room.

I call the office on my cell – “you have no new messages.” Great, but several other earlier ones need a response upon my return. At least it’s Friday, the weekend’s coming, and that prospect lightens my spirits.

“Careful what you say and do,” I think of telling the doc, clutching my note pad, jotting down random thoughts and phrases as they ricochet up and down my neural passage.

Another 20 minutes pass, then the door opens, Dr. Roussel sticks his head in and apologizes for the wait – “detained at the hospital,” he says – leaves to put on his white sport coat sans pink carnation, returns, scans the two-page medical update I’d completed, and we gets down to the business at hand – literally.

After several minutes of pokes, prods and questions, I find myself identifying more and more with the Dale Pridgeon song, especially this verse:

“I went to the doc for my annual physical exam,
Stood there in the buff, and he said, ‘Man!’
What is it, Doc, some fatal disease? I just gotta know the score.
‘Nope, you just don’t look good naked anymore.’”

I’m especially thankful to still have thick hair – no, I don’t wear a wig as some suspect – even as I’m slowly turning gray around my temples. I have no desire to grow a beard to compensate for any impending loss at the top of my pate. I sported a mustache for nearly 20 years but shaved it off when it took on a “salt and pepper” appearance. My wife didn’t notice until the next day.

The worst part of the exam (ahem) behind me, I get dressed as Dr. Roussel reviews his findings and advises me that any exercise regime, as valuable as it is, won’t keep the extra pounds off. Rather, he says, a regular practice of pushing away from the table instead of helping myself to seconds, along with having calorie-laden desserts sparingly, will make more difference in the long run.

I fret with the doctor about being able to cover our health care costs once Anna and I enter retirement later this year and give up the coverage provided by our respective employers. We’re already Medicare card carrying members, but it’s the price tag for Part B and D that concerns us.

Dr. Roussel graciously writes a prescription for a generic brand to replace a more costly medication I must keep taking and hands me a sheet ordering up a battery of blood work. If I pass these “tests,” I’ll feel like I’ve been given a new lease on life for the next while.

I thought again what a privilege it is to have access to modern medical procedures and services from a caring health care professional. Any infirmities are identified and treatment recommended before they become life-threatening. Even more, what a blessing it is to have reasonably good physical and mental health these many years. I can’t recall when I last took a sick day at work, even though there have been occasions when I should have.

I check in at the front desk, make an appointment for another exam a year from now – January 2012 (gulp!) – and brace myself to face the brisk wind and cold that has been standard fare for weeks in the Valley.

Stepping outside into a bright winter sky, I feel strangely warmed and pause to utter words of gratitude to my Creator that I am “fearfully and wonderfully made.”

Jim Bishop is public information officer at Eastern Mennonite University. He can be contacted at bishopj@emu.edu.

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