Not what I signed up for…

A few months ago, my doctor started hectoring me to schedule an appointment with a nutritionist. The guy cured some recurring foot pain I was having years ago with the power of positive thinking, so I’m usually game for anything he wants to try.

Let me start off by saying I could probably have gotten a cardiology appointment more quickly that I was able to get something scheduled with a local nutritionist. I made the appointment so long ago that I’d honestly forgotten about it. In fact, it wasn’t until my boss mentioned this morning that I was scheduled off this afternoon that I remembered it at all. That’s not the finest hour for my long-term memory, but I made it on time today so at least I have that going for me. 

I’m not sure what the doc expected me to learn. Eat less, exercise more, knock it off with the red meat and gin. I’m perfectly willing to admit intellectually that I should be exercising an hour a day or that I should be eating low-calorie, flavor-free foods. But the simple fact remains that a) That’s not how I want to allocate my limited free time and b) I like foods that don’t taste like someone smeared cottage cheese on cardboard. I’m well aware that I’m taking years off my life… but I’m not at all sure that the cost of adding years is worth what joys I’d be expected to give up.

This all would have been a fine use of an afternoon, except for the part where when I called requesting an appointment with a nutritionist, the nice people at Christiana instead made me an appointment with an endocrinologist. She was pleasant enough, I suppose, but far more interested in sending me off for a round of all the bloodwork than discussing how to make low-fat lasagna that doesn’t taste worse than the box in which the noodles arrive. I’m pretty sure that’s not what my doc or I really had in mind… but she said her office will be happy to refer me to a nutritionist, so I guess I’ll just go ahead and build a whole suite of medical professionals while I’m waiting on that to happen.

Sometimes it’s increasingly difficult to tell if I’m the sane one and the world has gone mad, or if the world is sane and I’ve lost my mind. Maybe it doesn’t make any difference.

Aging and other inconveniences…

This week, I’ve had an appointment with my dermatologist and two physical therapy sessions. Next week I’m back at PT for two more rounds. The week after that it’s an appointment with my primary care doc. Three weeks from now it’s a follow-up with the dermatologist. Then, four weeks from now, I’ll turn 44. 

I’m not saying all those things are in any way related, but I can’t help but feel like there is, perhaps, a vague connection between the never-ending parade of doctor’s appointments and the increasing number of times I’ve been around the sun. None of these appointments are for critical care issues. Just a bevy of regular appointments, follow-ups, and treating some minor issues.

My inner historian can’t help but note that our caveman ancestors right up through our dark age predecessors had a life expectancy of about 35 years. From the Tudor era right through the dawn of the industrial age, expectancy creeped up to almost 40 years. Over the last 200 years, expectancy has raced upward into the low to middle 70s. So yeah, we’ve managed to eliminate or at least mostly control many of the common causes of early death – ranging from accidents to disease – but we’re still walking around in meat suits that evolved over millennia with the expectation to get no more than 35-40 years of service.

From that perspective, it’s not hard to understand why there are occasionally bits and bobs that aren’t working quite right or how waking up in the morning so often reveals a new and unexpected pain somewhere. Sitting here looking at 44, I’m well past my warrantee date and from here on out will apparently need increasingly skilled mechanics to keep the whole thing cobbled together and running tolerably well.

If anyone needs me, I’ll be over here reading reviews on hyperbaric chambers and researching gene therapy.

The Scotsman’s Church of the Sacred Sausage Sandwich…

I was checking in at the doctor’s office a couple of days ago and the receptionist asked if I wanted to note my religion in the file. No one had ever asked that before. Maybe they’ve got a new block to fill in or something. In any case, the question caught me off guard. I’ve spent very little time pondering the issue as an adult. Sure, I was raised Methodist, but even back then I was more interested in hanging out at Scotty’s on Sunday morning to watch and listen to the grand old men of my hometown smoking their cigarettes, talking shit, and drinking copious amounts of coffee than I was in whatever was happening in Sunday school or church.

Scotty Orr. An institution unto himself.

Like the poet said, “Mama tried to raise me better,” but the formality of institutional church never really took hold in me. The older I got as a kid, the more my Sunday learning took place right there in the side booth of the best and only greasy spoon restaurant in town. Over the years, Scotty’s and the people in it have become a core memory, likely even foundational to how I think of myself as a person.

None of that answers the question about what religion the nice lady at the doctor’s office should write down, though. It’s not like I could ask her to put me down as a disciple of the Scotsman’s Church of the Sacred Sausage Sandwich or a parishioner of the Midland Temple of the Holy Cheeseburger, French Fries with Brown Gravy, and Strawberry Milkshake. Although, it’s the 21st century, so maybe I could have them plug that into my file without much argument.

The real answer is probably more complex. I tend to believe in the things I can see or taste or touch. I’ve never seen God or Jesus or an angel or any of the thousands of other gods scattered across human history. It’s awfully hard to prove a negative, though. My lack of seeing those things isn’t proof against their existing somewhere in the unknown universe.

If I had to distill my philosophy of religion into a single salient point, I think there’s probably just one universal commandment: Don’t be an asshole. If you can navigate life without doing that, or doing it as little as reasonably possible, I expect you’ll have done well in the eyes of an almighty. If that doesn’t satisfy some all-powerful sky lord, well, honestly that sounds like it’s more his problem than yours anyway.

So yeah, I stumbled on my response this week… but I think I know what I’m going to say the next time anyone asks.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Coffee, black. I had blood work done this week and received instructions not to eat or drink anything prior to the appointment. Black coffee was excepted. I appreciate that I was allowed to get caffeinated and avoid the inevitable withdrawal headache, but honestly, even good black coffee is bad. I’m sorry, it just is. I mean I don’t want 10 times more cream in my go juice than coffee or anything, but I like it to come to a nice deep tan before pouring it down my gullet. I know there will be a chorus of “real coffee lovers drink it black,” well, you’re welcome to your bitter bean water, but I’m going to insist on something more civilized.

2. Hand wringing about corporate profits. “But companies are posting record profits,” they whine. Yes, they are…. and those companies are going to do things like invest in their infrastructure, identify growth opportunities, and return a big slice of that profit to their shareholders through increased value or directly by issuing dividends. If you follow the average news report you could be forgiven for thinking “shareholder” is just another word for the evil 1%. In reality, of course, shareholders reflect every single American who has a 401k, or an IRA, or a Health Savings Account, a 529 plan, or yes, even one of those old school union-backed pension plans. Big corporate profits are a good news story for the 55%+ of the population who have invested for their future. Sorry, but in a free market I’ll just never see businesses making a profit as anything but a good news story.

3. Anti-streaming. Look, if you’re going to have people schlep to the office and spend eight hours there doing work that they could be doing from the comfort and convenience of their own homes, the least you can do is unblock some music streaming options so we can make an honest effort at ignoring those inane conversations going on around us. Unless, of course, sitting around listening in on six conversations at once is the “organizational culture” it’s so important to preserve. I mean I know there are people who really dig being in the office, but I can’t for a moment imagine why. There’s not a single thing there that works better than its counterpart in my home office… myself included.

I’ve been referred…

I went into the doctor’s office this morning expecting the normal checkup and regular drubbing for being too fat, too in love with salt, and hating all forms of exercise that aren’t yard work.

I got those things, of course, but I also got three unexpected referrals. The first involves an as yet undetermined amount of physical therapy for a back that never entirely quits hurting. The second is for a dermatologist to take a look at a stubborn bit or rash on my arms that the doc now thinks could be an acquired allergy to one of my medications. The last, well, that’s the one that just adds insult to injury.

The final referral is for a consultation with a nutritionist. Apparently, the idea of most of my collected recipes being directly from the 1950s and 60s is abhorrent and “not at all” recommended.

Yeah, well, they all taste good. Which is inevitably more than I’ll be able to say about whatever diet cardboard with lite vinegar sauce I’m about to have recommended for me. I’ll try to go in with an open mind, but the first time someone tells me cauliflower is an acceptable substitute for bread, pizza crust, or rice, you’ll be able to hear my eyes rolling from wherever you happen to be in the world.

I’m not convinced healthy people really live longer so much as it just feels longer because they’ve sucked every ounce of joy out of living. Anyway, it looks like I’ll be burning off shit tons of sick leave in the near future, so at least I have that to look forward to.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Forty minutes. I overslept by 40 minutes. I know that doesn’t sound like much – and it isn’t in this work from home environment where I regularly climb out of bed two hours before I need to sign on for the day. It is, however, just enough time shaved off the morning to make me feel like I’m running behind for the rest of the day. So, sure, I’m marginally more rested but carrying around loads of extra angst while spending the day trying to shave minutes and seconds off everything and get back to baseline so I don’t feel like I’ve squandered the day when it comes time to lay my head down again.

2. Reminders. I have an appointment with my doctor on Friday. I know I have this appointment because when I made it, I tapped it into my calendar and set a reminder. To the best of my knowledge, even in the time before electronic, handheld calendars when everything was written on paper, I never missed or even found myself late for an appointment with my doctor. I’d even be comfortable extending that to pretty much any appointment I’ve ever made as a grown adult. If I tell you I’m going to be there, I’ll be there. On the rare occasion where it hasn’t been possible to keep an appointment, I’ve cancelled as soon as I knew there was an unavoidable conflict. My doctor’s office, however, seems to think I’m the most ragingly incompetent adult who has every shuffled through life. So far in the last seven days I’ve received three text messages and an email imploring me to remember that I have this appointment. I’m trying to remember that this is probably just a reflection of the general public being barely able to dress and feed themselves without assistance. Honestly, I’m not sure if that makes me feel better or worse about the situation.

3. The Gas Rebate Act of 2022. Proposed before the U.S. House of Representatives is the Gas Rebate Act of 2022. As proposed, it would send $100 to every American (plus an additional $100 per dependent) each month that the price of gasoline exceeds $4.00 a gallon. Maybe I truly am just one of the olds now, but I distinctly remember a time in America where we expected to need to pay our own way in life. That seems to have gone out of fashion with the bailout of homeowners who over-mortgaged themselves in the early 2000s and has only accelerated in the Plague Era when rent and mortgage payments could be suspended completely while Uncle sent out round after round of cash money “just because.” I increasingly feel like a real sucker – over here paying my own bills and seeing the obscene amount of money being taxed away every year so I can pay for other people’s goddamned gasoline too. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Scolding. “Your test results are always oddly good for someone… like you. That won’t last forever.” Doc, look, no one knows better than I do that I’m a walking timebomb. Someday this glorious temple of gluttonous debauchery will fall down and sink into the swamp. I know that. But today, it seems, is not that day. And I don’t intend to spend every day from this day to that inevitable day at an indeterminate time in the future doing things I hate (like jogging around the neighborhood) or eating things that I hate (like kale). Even the healthiest of us eventually drop dead. There’s nothing all the gifted practitioners at Johns Hopkins can do to stave off the end that comes for us all. Better to spend those limited days, I think, doing and eating, things I enjoy.

2. Agreeing with Speaker Pelosi. I never feel entirely well when I find myself agreeing with Speaker Pelosi. Fortunately it’s something that doesn’t happen particularly often. In the case of the House select committee on the insurrection of January 6th, it’s the only investigative vehicle left open to the Speaker in the face of a Republican congressional caucus that would rather hide from or obfuscate the truth than nail down the details of what really happened, who was involved, and what motivated them. Sedition and insurrection are among the most vile offenses against our republic. Making the details surrounding what happened plain is in the vital national interest. If elected Republicans are too afraid of the results of the investigation to call for one, well, that’s probably a decent sign that one is needed without delay.

3. Seven hours. There are seven working hours between me and a nine-day weekend. If that’s not legitimate grounds to be annoyed, I don’t know what is.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Look, I never ask anyone to do anything on a whim. If I bother to send an email or pick up the phone it’s generally either to pass on a direct request from those at echelons higher than reality or something in general accord with some wild ass scheme of theirs. I don’t have the time or interest in creating requirements out of whole cloth – and as a matter of principle, I never make work just to make work. So, it would be incredibly helpful if people could just go ahead and do things instead of making me go 37 rounds on why. In the end, my rabbi has more suction than their rabbi and they’re going to end up doing it anyway, so why not save us both a few days of back and forth and just get on with it.

2. When I arrived back in Maryland almost a decade ago, I picked my primary doctor based on two factors. First, his office was ten minutes from where I’d be working and second, when the moment arrives that I need massive medical intervention for some reason, I want ready access to the combined expertise of providers and the advanced facilities available at Johns Hopkins. That’s all a fine thing… except, of course, in a plague year. In the before time, I could be there and back for an appointment in no longer than it took for a slightly extended lunch. These last few appointments, however, result in an 80-minute round trip and burning off 2-3 hours of sick leave. Sure, it’s still better than being in the office and having quick trip for appointments, but it’s bloody inconvenience.

3. I purged a fair number of people from my socials between the peak of Great Plague and the Capitol insurrection. I’ve always supported people’s right to say whatever they want… while maintaining my own right not to listen to whatever conspiracy fueled ranting they were on about. Just happening to know them twenty-five years ago, doesn’t create an eternal commitment on my part to listen to stark raving foolishness to the exclusion of all other topics. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve noticed a few of those exiles popping up as new “friend requests,” Yeah, that’s gonna be a hard no from me. I’d say it’s nothing personal, but well, I suppose it is.

I’m going to get a lecture…

I’ve been successfully avoiding the doctor since this whole COVID-19 dust up started.  Intentionally schlepping into a building designed to cater to sick people didn’t feel to me like a particularly good idea. Sure, my own brand of sickness is killing me slowly and needs attention from time to time, but avoiding the kind of sick that causes swift death from lack of oxygen was more of a priority. 

It’s been a year since my last checkup. I’ve mostly felt fine, or rather anything that’s bothered me pre-dates COVID-19 by a matter of years and been around long enough that it all feels like my version of normal. The doc kept refilling prescriptions on schedule and I was happy enough staying put until the world sorted itself out.  Apparently, though, doc has a philosophical problem with refilling scripts for someone he hasn’t personally seen in a year. That’s fair, I suppose. Inconvenient, but fair. 

I already know most of what he’s going to tell me. I’ve picked up weight during the plague. That’s likely a side effect of working my way through the comfort food cookbook half a dozen times over the last year. My blood sugar is running higher. Again, a result of the carb-heavy cooking and an increased intake of gin and tonic.

I’ve never been a paragon of healthy living. No one knows that more intuitively than I. When you add in my natural predilections and preferences to a world that has steadily condensed into only the pleasures I can find here inside the compound, well, the results shouldn’t be surprising to anyone. Trolling through flea markets, antique malls, old book shops, and secondhand stores have all been wholly replaced with the joy of tasty food and drink. It’s not optimal, but it’s what it is.

I’m going to get a lecture next week. I’m quite certain of that. I’m going to get a lecture, but I’m going to get my prescriptions refilled, so it’s probably a fair trade. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The yawning gap in medical care. I’ve blown off most of my own medical appointments since March but the animals have all hit theirs on time or as needed. That probably says more about me as a person, or at least my priorities, than I’d really like to think about. It’s probably a function of simplicity, too. I can pull up to the vet, hand off the critters for a bit of the old poke and prod, and find a nice shady spot to wait. My doc, on the other hand, wants me to schlep into an office, sit in a socially distanced chair, and wait around with other people who have God knows what plague spewing from their face holes. I’m sure it’s completely irrational, but I’d have to be quite near death’s door myself before I thought that was a good idea.

2. Failure to communicate. I’ve long suspected that the biggest problem faced in dealing with Great Plague is one of basic communication. Given the patchwork nature of our republic (combined with a relentless 24-hour news cycle desperate for things to fill air time), the public is presented with as many as fifty different, often conflicting bits of advice on mask wearing, the benefits of social distancing, and what businesses can be open and how many people they can service. There’s also the discomfiture when schools must close, but bars and restaurants can be open. There may well be fine, scientific reasons for why this is perfectly reasonable, but on its face, it’s a position that feels like it defies common sense.  Add in the fact that science, by definition, isn’t a static and recommendations change based on new data and it’s a recipe for public confusion. Frankly, I’m not even sure that cohesive national-level messaging and policy would do much in the face of how much conflicting “information” is available through every website that proports to carry the latest news or medical advice.

3. America’s Mayor. In September 2001 Rudy Giuliani was lionized as “Americas Mayor” for his grit and determination in leading New York City through the aftermath of the terrorist attacks that brought down the World Trade Center. His steady hand on the tiller and regular presence at press conferences, exuded a calm that almost none of us felt at the time. Fast forward almost twenty years and it’s hard to believe we’re even seeing the same person. From his presser live from the parking lot at Four Seasons Total Landscaping to his performance yesterday in federal court, where he seemed to forget the name of both the presiding judge and the opposing counsel, the mayor appears to be a poor shadow of himself. For those of us old enough to remember him as a masterful leader when we most needed one, it’s an awfully hard thing to watch.