I started booking my husband’s and my yearly physicals at the same time about 10 years ago because my husband would go to the doctor only on as-needed basis. And while he is rarely sick I convinced him he needed a yearly physical to stay that way.
His default is: “It’s all good, everything’s fine.” Mine is panic first and foremost; that way I’m guaranteed to be overjoyed when the worst does not come to pass.
With age, of course, comes the parade of incremental but, as yet, benign maladies and the requisite tests to rule out the rest. Soon, we were discussing the difference between HDL and LDL, systolic and diastolic, and the age-old ice versus heat for pain.
We giggled in recovery rooms post colonoscopy, held hands when the doctor called with biopsy results, spent anxious hours in the emergency room following a collision with a car while biking (his) and a collision with the pavement while running (that would be me). And let’s not leave out arthritic knees, bad backs and yes, even cataracts.
In sickness and in health, we said so long ago, and every year upon getting the all-clear sign I come home giddy, and merry and relieved. I maintain my husband doesn’t have to worry; I do enough churning to cover us both.
In our families, cancer and heart disease are unrelenting stalkers, so I know in my bones the full measure of our good fortune upon receiving a clean bill of health. Plus, in recent years, too many friends my age have become widows. I know I have no business taking anything for granted.
The advantage to scheduling our appointments together is I’m able to tell the doctor things about my husband he would not bring up. Last year, my complaints about his snoring led to a sleep apnea diagnosis and a C-PAP machine, for which I am eternally grateful. This miracle invention not only keeps him alive and steadily breathing, more importantly, I can finally sleep without having to plead every hour on the hour: for the love of God, please turn on your side, please.
This year, I planned to bring up his nagging cough. I know it’s mostly likely from working day and night on our kitchen remodel all the while inhaling a thick white fog of drywall dust that now permeates the entire house. (He only puts on a breathing mask when he sees me coming. Ditto a back brace and drinking water.)
Still, I’m not one to take “mostly likely” to the bank. On the day of our physical, a friend I walk with at the dog park tells me he is awaiting test results of his latest scan. He’s in his late 60s and five years ago, what looked like walking pneumonia turned out to be lung cancer. After years of boomerang chemo, remission, and cancer’s return, he has reconciled with his mortality. “If the cancer has come back,” he says, matter-of-factly, “I’m pretty much done for.”
Then he pulls out his phone and shows me photos of the very sick and nearly dying kids he religiously visits at Children’s Hospital with Charley, his therapy dog. One is of a 12-year-old girl sitting in a hospital chair with Charley stoically perched on her lap. She’s frail; matchstick thin. “I figure I’ve had a good run,” he says.
The other advantage to having physicals at the same time is that we can gripe about fasting together. He missed his cereal, strawberries and OJ; I missed my granola, yogurt and blueberries. At least we can have coffee, we said, (no sugar or cream allowed) and Charlie Rose interviewing Mandy Patinkin was an added bonus to the morning.
A couple days prior, I posted on Facebook a quote by L.R. Knost: “Life is amazing and then it’s awful and then it’s amazing again. And in between the awful and the amazing, it’s ordinary and mundane and routine. Breathe in the amazing, hold on through the awful and relax and exhale through the ordinary. That’s just living: heart-breaking, soul healing amazing, awful ordinary life.”
Chris left for work and I finished my coffee watching as he backed out of the driveway in the red pickup in need of new brakes just as I have a million times before. But in that mundane and routine and ordinary moment, I thought: that right there, right now, is mine, to have and to hold. Funny how the mundane can make the heart do somersaults.
My appointment was at 2 p.m.; Chris’ was at 3:15. The oblong waiting room was nearly full of waiting patients. On one wall TV, CNN was blaring about Donald Trump doubling down on his Muslim insanity. Off in the corner, a plastic Hanukkah menorah and Christmas tree stood guard.
The face-to-face seating had us hiding behind our cellphones. The man across from me even phoned his wife in the examining room. “Give me a call and let me know how much longer I’ll be waiting on you,” he said. “What are they doing? Giving you a new body?”
As usual, the doctor was backed up. Just when Chris arrived, I was called in by the nurse. “See you at home,” I said. When I was done, I texted him and asked him to pick up charcoal. Nothing like filet on the grill after they’ve done your bloodwork but before the cholesterol numbers come in.
“Did you say something about me coughing?” Chris asked when he got home.
“Because I had my chest X-rayed.”
“Oh my goodness!” I said. “What did they say?”
“It’s all good,” he said. “Everything’s fine.”