Two weeks ago, I had my annual physical. These used to be uneventful. And then I turned 40 and everything changed. That’s when certain body parts previously unknown to me became important and the need for my doctor to have them, well, uh, examined.
Apparently my prostate is quite small and goes into hiding when a search party has been called. And then, when located, it requires a lengthy audible description of its shape, size and texture. All of which can be very important.
But I learned a long time ago to never complain around my wife about going to the doctor. This lesson was imparted to me one time when I might have, quite possibly, used the word “childbirth” in comparison to a pain I was having at the time. I think it was a stubbed toe.
I say “may have” because my memory is still foggy. It’s hard to remember details after you’ve been cold cocked with a frying pan. Or maybe it was a George Foreman grill. Not sure.
Anyway, now I just keep my mouth shut and do my duty. But that doesn’t mean anyone else in the household is quiet about my upcoming exam. Lori gives me a list to share with the doctor that has gathered over the preceding year.
“Ask about those spots on your back. Ask about that mole on your arm. Get your labs done. Find out your LDL and HDL. And blood pressure for sure. Last year it was good. But when you checked it at the Wal-Mart pharmacy, it was high. Remember? You need to be around for a LONG TIME. ”
The kids will often have their own agenda items, presented less diplomatically: “Dad you can never hear anything I say!” “You forgot what I asked you to get me!” Typically offered in a raised voice, from another room, while they work their phones. But, honestly, their complaints come a lot less frequently these days, largely because, well, I can’t hear them.
And then I have my own list. The physical is the annual marker for the wear and tear on your knees, your skin, your mind and answers the all-important question: Are you aging? And if so, where in the body and how fast. But the last couple years my list has been short. There’s just one thing on it: my weight. This year, last year, two years ago, 10 years ago. Which direction is it going?
And then you have the physician’s questions. I’m now 56, so they run from the benign to the important.
It typically begins with polite conversation you might have with someone at the gym or in the employee cafeteria. “How are you doing? How are things?” Open-ended questions that allow him to avoid the more age-relevant questions that most family newspapers reserve for the “health section” of the Sunday insert. And then, abruptly, he says “drop your pants.”
So all of was familiar turf to me when I walked into the doctor’s office. The nurse called my name and immediately asked me to take off my shoes to get my height. I obliged her requests. “How tall?” I asked. The nurse paused. “Your height is six one and a half.”
“No” I replied. “I’m six two.”
She looked again. “Well, this says six one and a half.”
I stepped off the chart and looked to the nurse. “What was it last year?” She looked down and quickly replied. “Six two.”
She walked with me down the hall to the examining room. “It’s happening,” I said to myself. “This is it. It happened to my dad and now me. I’m shrinking.” Unflattering images jumped through my head — my kids towering over me, speaking loudly, waiting for me to climb into our Tahoe.
We arrived at the examining room. I stepped on the scale. She read out loud: 197 pounds. “What was it last year?” I asked. 192. Gained five pounds and lost a half an inch. Getting bigger and smaller.
The doctor arrived. “Am I’m getting shorter?” He dismissed it. “No. It’s probably just a thing where they measured you last year with your shoes on. Sometimes the nurses measure you with shoes on. That’s probably what happened last year. Do you remember if your shoes were on last year?”
“No, I really don’t.”
I was five minutes into the exam and three things were clear: In a year’s time I was shorter, fatter and seemingly more forgetful.
And then the rest of the physical started.
Freelance columnist Matthew Keenan writes on the first and third Wednesday of the month. His book “Call Me Dad, Not Dude, the sequel” is sold at Barnes & Noble and Amazon. Visit his blog at matthewkeenan.com or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.