I don’t want cancer. Unless that’s going to be in the cards soon anyway. I want my body to stop irritating me with a series of annoyances that cause me to see some doctor, take pills, bitch and lose productive time.
A variety of bizarre, premature shit has cropped up solely to piss me off in the last few years. Arrhythmia. A temporarily half-paralyzed face. A Dupuytren’s whatever-the-frig in my left hand. Gout. Pneumonia.
Pneumonia. The old man’s friend. I’m not yet 45.
Meanwhile I’m healthy. “Healthy.” When people say “Thank God for good health,” they specifically mean me. No brain tumor. No lung cancer. No lupus. No diabetes. No Lyme disease. No Lou Gehrig’s disease. No artificial limbs. Nothing that qualifies me as bad off in the slightest.
“Things happen,” my young Eastern European doctor says. This probably means no ailment I could ever get will impress her. If rebels are shooting your dictator while you’re in grade school, my EKG isn’t going to shake you.
Yes, there’s the usual helping of inane first world depravity that’s speeding me to an early death. Namely about 37 unnecessary pounds distributed atop internal organs which probably don’t appreciate the company.
But that’s allegedly it. There’s nothing on any of my test results that gets a red Sharpie circle with an exclamation point. Nothing that would make a doctor take a drink of water and look at pictures of his kids before dialing me up. Nobody is telling me that my courage is inspiring. I’m too healthy to be inspiring.
When I hear about somebody younger than me being diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer or aggressive MS or whatever, I naturally feel bad for that person and lucky for myself. For about 15 seconds. Then I go back to feeling belligerent about getting winged by grapeshot every few months with some bullshit problem that is not cancer, not cardiac arrest and not a stroke but will screw up my day-to-day life for an undetermined period of time.
It’s like the health-calamity god is constantly flicking me in the ear. He occasionally wanders off to destroy the life of some innocent son of a bitch who was minding his own business and feeding five kids, but then he comes back. He resumes flicking.
I want to grab the motherfucker by the throat and scream “Just kill me! If you’re gonna do it, do it!”
It needn’t be said that the Bell’s palsy put me here.
One Thursday morning in March 2010, I noticed that I dribbled when I tried to drink and my right eye wouldn’t blink. Weird. I went to a scheduled dentist appointment without faintly considering the possibility that I had suffered a stroke and might die.
I didn’t consider that because I’m healthy.
“There’s someting wong wid my face,” I said.
My dentist, a man in his fifties named Moe, looked at me like he was seeing a witch melt. He told me to run to a specialist one block from his office. Tests showed no stroke. No brain damage.
“It looks like your typical Bell’s palsy,” the neurologist said. Which paralyzes half of your typical face. For about two weeks, usually, and then it goes away. At least in 85 percent of cases. The other 15 percent of people spend the remainder of their lives feeling greater empathy for the Elephant Man.
Why was this happening?
“We don’t know, it just happens,” he said. “We have no idea why. It might have to do with a nerve in your neck. There’s nothing we can do about it.”
This was not a satisfactory answer.
For the next ten days, I endured curious and pitied stares from strangers and intimates. I felt like an acid attack victim without the admirer.
I didn’t get hit with the 15-percent nuclear missile. It went away. I resumed trundling about the earth as normal.
Months later I noticed a small, sinewy knot in the palm of my left hand. Upon examining this I discovered that I could not fully straighten my ring finger.
“You’ve got Viking hand,” the hand surgeon said. He seemed almost congratulatory.
“That’s your typical Dupuytren’s contracture. It usually hits people with northern European blood, like Scandinavians. So that’s where the Viking connection comes from. We have no idea what causes it.”
“I’m not Scandinavian,” I said.
He thought for a second. “Any English? Scottish?”
It might stay the way it is and never need treatment, he explained. Or it might progress and require an in-office surgical procedure.
“There’s no way of knowing. In any event, we wouldn’t treat it unless it gets much worse.”
This was not a satisfactory answer.
I can’t place my left palm flat on a table or fully extend my left ring finger, and I must endure this until—and if—my finger eventually retracts into a curly fry. But in sixteen months it refuses to worsen. I’m accustomed to fixing things that break just a little. Now that MO is useless.
Some months ago, I noticed a similar lump on the sole of my left foot.
“That’s Ledderhose disease,” the podiatrist said. “It shows up in a percentage of people who have a Dupuytren’s contracture. It’s Dupuytren’s but in the foot.”
Total mystery. Might not progress. Needs to get a shitload worse before they treat it.
“Is it called Viking foot?” I asked.
“No,” she said.
She explained that a doctor named Dupuytren saw it in the hand and another doctor named Ledderhose saw it in the foot. We shared a chuckle at the absurdity.
“And a French guy named Peyronie saw it in the penis,” she added.
Not that I should worry.
“If that happens, I will call it Viking dick,” I said.
Taze me, bro
If you eat 80 ounces of steak every day and die of a heart attack at 39, at least you die having the perverted satisfaction of knowing a justifiable, fingerable cause-and-effect ejected you from the planet. But when you start getting hit with a string of afflictions that are technically known as “weird shit,” you don’t get that piddling solace.
Nobody wants health ailments that are the medical equivalent of UFO sightings.
Every man has the right to direct the adage “you screw with the bull, you get the horns” to himself in some philosophically manly way. While omitting mention of the urine streaming down his leg from fear of incapacitation and death.
It’s retaining the microscopic dignity of accepting justice and acknowledging what’s cosmically right, even if it burns you. When you freely admit that a punishment fits your crime, you can pretend that you’re the type of guy who will, in some small way, go out with his boots on. Maybe one boot. A lowcut trail shoe. A camp slipper.
At least with the gout, I felt as if some of my bad habits had been vindicated.
“We actually don’t know why some people begin to process uric acid inefficiently,” a doctor recently told me. “It doesn’t really tie to diet, weight or alcohol consumption as much as we once thought. A lot of it is still a mystery.”
Maybe the ridiculously uneven progress of medical science is to blame. In a building that houses a $150 million anticancer proton accelerator the length of a football field, no doctor should be pointing to my toe and scratching his head.
But that’s happening.
If anyone says, “welcome to middle age,” I will beat that person to death with a shovel. Should a shovel be handy. Under 12 pounds.
This isn’t middle age. Not the middle age promised in a post A-bomb world.
I was supposed to stride into middle age like Robert Young, not leach into it like fucking Uncle Fester. I realize that starting out like Robert Young would have been a significant help to this plan, but it’s defeatist to dwell on that.
I’m not asking for medical science to make my problems magically vanish. All I’m asking for is to hear reasonable explanations of how my body is avenging the abuse I’ve done to it. Getting a palms-up “things happen” is not satisfactory. Sorry, Petronela.
I know that reading this in weeks or years hence, when cancer and lupus and Lou Gehrig’s disease or whatever have made themselves known, I’ll probably beg to regain the state of annoyance I clomp around in now. I can’t change that. I can only bitch for today.
Excuse me while I prepare for Viking dick.
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