I’ll be eighty in December and I think I’m in good health. Am I kidding myself? My friends are dropping like flies. In the last month I’ve lost three of them. And what about my weight? Am I gaining weight? Is there a bit less slack in the waste? Or is that my imagination?
Maybe I’m not getting enough exercise though I do try to go for walks every other day. Lately though, for one reason or another, I haven’t been keeping up. Either it’s raining or I’m attending a funeral or I’m making a condolence call.
What about my vital signs? How are my HDL, My LDL my VLDL, and my triglicerides? My friends talk about that stuff a lot. What about my blood sugar and blood pressure? The other day I thought I felt a little dizzy and my heart was racing.
Am I at risk for a heart attack or stroke? Most of my family members had strokes and heart problems. Is that what’s in store for me? Is it in my genes? Am I living on borrowed time? Is the grim reaper waiting for me just around the corner?
Am I prepared? How do you prepare for death? It’s not an exam that you can study for. Maybe a will, a health directive, a POA? What about my final resting place? I don’t know why they call it a resting place. Is dying resting? You’re not napping. You don’t get up and stretch. Should I be buried or cremated? The thought of being cremated really freaks me out.
What should I do? Should I contact a doctor, a lawyer, a mortician? I have nothing against doctors personally, but I don’t like them poking around. And besides, I don’t have any symptoms. I feel fine. What can they do for me if I don’t have symptoms? What can I say when the doctor asks, “Where does it hurt?”
If I saw a doctor he would start with a physical. But two late friends have dropped dead right after taking physicals. There was Sid who walked out of the doctor’s office and keeled over. And Bob who didn’t even make it out of the office. Was this mere coincidence or did the physical actually cause their demise?
The doctor probably would start by taking my blood and urine. Then he’d look in my ears, my eyes, my nose, my throat and my ass. And what would he see? Not much. Since he didn’t see anything he’d probably send me to specialists for ultrasounds, MRIs, echocardiograms and colonoscopies? That last colonoscopy I had twenty years ago wasn’t much fun.
If I went for all these tests I’d be spending most of my time waiting in doctors’ offices. And then I’d be in a state of high anxiety waiting for the results. With all these new-fangled tests they’d be certain to find all sorts of things wrong.
And what about my diet? Am I getting enough fiber? I’ve never been quite clear as to why I need fiber. Do I eat too many burgers? Is there too much pasta in my diet? Do I have enough kale in my diet? My vegan friends swear by kale. For them it’s like some kind of a vegan’s rabbit’s foot.
What if I need a stent, a bypass, a pacemaker? What if I have to stay in the hospital? That would be a killer. I haven’t been overnight in a hospital since I was born.
And what about the cost? That night in the hospital could cost more than a night at the Waldorf. Would my insurance cover it? I could end up in the poor house or even worse, living with a relative.
And what if there’s nothing wrong with me? To go through these tests for nothing would be very bad for my head. Do I need to be tying myself up in knots worrying about what might happen?
I take a deep breath, then a second and a third one. I relax my shoulders, my back, arms and fingers. I wait a few minutes. I drink a glass of water. Now I’m starting to calm down. Now I can move on.
* * *
The bright spot today is that I’ve just received delivery of my new scale. I ordered this scale so I could watch my weight. Or should I say listen to my weight. The scale, which I bought on ebay, is a talking scale. Isn’t that marvelous? What a brilliant idea. You don’t have to look down through your dirty bifocals and strain to see the numbers. You can even hear your weight in the dark.
Now, in a small way I feel like I’m doing something about my health. I unpack the scale and put in the battery. When I get up on the scale I hear a beautiful woman’s voice. She sounds like Julie Andrews. “Your weight is 74.2 Kilograms,” she says. Kilograms? I’m confused. What’s going on? I look in the box for written instructions, but there are none. What do I do now? I get off the scale and get back on and she repeats, “Your weight is 74.2 Kilograms.” I want my weight in pounds. I don’t know from kilograms. I want good old American pounds.
I examine the scale carefully to see if there’s a switch that changes the weight from pounds to kilograms. Some scales have that kind of switch on the underside. I look on the underside, but there’s no switch. What do I do now? I remove the battery and look inside the battery compartment. On some electronic devices there’s a reset button in there. But there’s no reset button. When I put the battery back in and stand on the scale, in her golden tones Julie Andrews speaks my weight in kilograms.
Now what? I’m desperate. I’m near the end of my rope. I try talking to the scale. If one of my neighbors heard me they’d say I was certifiable. But there are no neighbors around. And there’s certain logic to what I’m doing. Perhaps, since it’s a talking scale, it will respond to voice commands. I instruct the scale to give the weight in pounds. But that doesn’t work. Nothing works.
Isn’t this wonderful? I’m ready to throw the scale out the window, but with my luck I’d probably hit a passerby. So much for those Ebay deals. Now I’ll have to go on line and look for a kilogram to pound conversion chart. I’ll print the chart out and tape it on the wall over the scale. When I stand on the scale I’ll have to listen to the scale and then look at the chart and transpose the weight from kilograms into pounds. Isn’t that a kluge way to get your weight? And I won’t be able to get my weight in pounds in the dark, which I was looking forward to. That was one of the appealing things about this scale. And now I’ve lost that.
I try to be philosophical about it. Deals don’t always work out the way you planned. And though I could try to return it, it doesn’t make sense. The scale cost me $15 and would cost me $10 to ship back. And then would I get credit for it? I’m resigned to writing the scale off as a bad purchase.
The next morning when I see the scale on the floor I’m ready to kick it. But I don’t want to hurt my big toe. I’ve done that before. I step on the scale expecting Julie Andrews, but instead I get a man’s voice. He sounds like Don Pardo and he’s speaking with an American accent. “You weigh 162 pounds,” he says. Did I hear that right? Was I hallucinating? I get off the scale and then back on. The man’s voice repeats my weight in pounds. I don’t know what’s going on. Has the scale gone through some magical transformation overnight? Or is there some kind of processor inside the scale that’s playing mind games with me?
And will the voice continue to give my weight in pounds? With this scale you don’t know what lies ahead. What if it reverts to kilograms? Or what if it starts talking in Afrikaans? I had a GPS that did that — for no apparent reason started talking in Afrikaans. Should I remove the conversion chart from the wall? I don’t think so. I think I’ll wait a little bit. Just in case.
Philip Lear has taught courses in the short story at Rutgers in the OLLIRU program and has published two anthologies of stories.