The other day, my wife and I were driving along in our car when I complained of having a bellyache. My stomach was making prolonged sounds, as if I had swallowed a litter of kittens and they were all calling for help. My wife nodded firmly and said, “You’re over 50, old man. You need to get a colonoscopy!”
I cringed. My wife says the term “old man” is supposed to be a loving term, but I don’t see it that way. Somehow, just a couple years ago, I passed that magic “best if used by” date, and now just about anything that goes wrong is likely to be the beginning of the end. Where 10 years ago a sore tummy meant ice cream, now it means being checked out from stem to stern by someone with paper mask and rubber gloves. Spots on my skin are no longer just spots on my skin, they’re now possible melanomas. A sore left shoulder is possible a love tap on the chest by the grim reaper.
Up until the age of 50, your average man (and believe me, I am very much an average man) is like a car with less than 100,000 miles on the odometer. Things simply don’t go wrong that often, and when they do, they are easily fixed. During that break-in period, if somethingb really bad happens, most often it’s because you either mistreated your vehicle or did something stupid.
A man after 50 is very similar to a car after 100,000 miles. It often starts to smell a little funny, has trouble getting going in the morning and probably isn’t your first choice for any long trips. It leaks from places you can’t figure out, and every so often, blows black smoke out of the tailpipe. Soon after passing that “best if used by” date, it starts spending more time in the repair shop than it does on the road.
For my first five decades on this planet, I have made it a point to avoid medical attention whenever possible. I got a checkup for a life insurance policy 10 years ago, and figured that if the insurance people figured I was worth the risk, I was probably OK. They were betting a whole lot of money on my health, for just a low monthly fee. It was like a corporate endorsement. When I ripped a leg muscle so badly I couldn’t put any weight on it, I got an ace bandage and borrowed a cane from my father-in-law. Once, when I lost a major filling, I actually filled it myself with some tooth putty I found at CVS (no lie), and then put off going to a real dentist for six months. When the dentist saw my work, she was impressed (and a little horrified).
Some of my looming sense of doom comes from drug commercials on TV. They all seem to be aimed at the 50-and-over crowd, trying to convince you that you have diseases that you’ve never even thought of before: “The shingles virus may be lurking inside of you!” “If you suspect you may have COPD, call your doctor!” It’s a one-two punch: You have something seriously wrong with you, and once you take our drug for it, here’s the list of side effects you can expect!
To make matters worse, they invented the Internet so you can run to a laptop and look up your symptoms and possible consequences. While I am sure there is authentic medical advice on the web, you will never find it. Instead, you will find endless sites where people just like you describe their medical problems, and tons of other people, people with names like “angi768” and “lovinspoonfl454” chime in to tell them they’re goners.
The other day, I got a legal notice from my insurance company telling me that soon there would be a change in the premiums on my insurance policy, the one that provided a boatload of dough were I to keel over in mid-column. I could still be insured, but my payments would go up slightly – by 1,000 percent. Once I hit that magic number of 55, they said, I was no longer such a good bet.
It’s enough to give this old man a tummy ache.
Peter McKay, a longtime Ben Avon resident and syndicated columnist, can be reached at his website, www.peter-mckay.com.