Category Archives: care

Letter 55: Reflections on a Colonoscopy

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I was early and the doctor was late. There I sat, naked to the world but for the flimsy gown, on the eve of my birthday wondering if they would find anything, again. The fact that the doctor found an adenoma six months ago is the reason I was now sitting there waiting.

Statistically, I am now in the back half of my life. So one gets reflective. I remember my pediatrician, Dr. Horton. He wore a white lab coat and smoked a pipe, I believe. It was his office, and unless he was sick or on vacation, you saw him. I don’t think he had a nurse, only a receptionist. Nurses still wore white uniforms with white stockings and shoes. I can recall the small stinky bottles of special shoe polish for white shoes, complete with the image of a nurse on it. I can’t recall seeing any nurses with the hat or the cape, but the image was still present.

You got a fairly thorough exam. Tongue depressor, rubber hammer to test reflexes, a look in the ears and the nose, and follow the penlight with your eyes. And of course, he stuck a glass thermometer under my tongue to check my temperature. He was authoritative. He drew his own blood.

In smaller towns, such persons were respected members of the community. Together with the local attorney, he served on the board of the local bank, with either the local insurance agent or the local grocer. Chances are they served on various advisory boards as well. Looking back on those days, nearly everything was local.

I was called out of my reverie by a commotion outside. Something had happened. Something not good. I heard muffled comments, and scurrying feet. I would later learn this was part of the reason my doctor was late.

One of the peculiarities of modern medicine is the obsessive need to confirm that that you are you and why you are there. Apparently, this is state law. Every interaction began with some variation of the litany. I was there for a colonoscopy. Who, pray tell, was going attempt to sneak in and steal a colonoscopy?

I understand that times have changed. The technologies available and the number of conditions doctors can treat have expanded. Insurance companies’ efforts to keep costs down have perversely have had the opposite effect—it’s all about maximizing billing opportunities. My annual physical will consist of a few checks, and an order of a blood test. I’ll have to come back for my doctor to read me the results I’ve already looked at online. The physical is “free.” They can bill for the second visit.

Is it better to have that sense of continuity and familiarity or the panoply of treatments? I wonder. I apparently share the “Comstock Colon.” I’m not sure when my grandfather was first diagnosed with colon cancer. It was the slow-growing variety, and so every few years they would remove a bit of his colon. This continued for some time until he ran out of colon. Would the earlier availability of colonoscopies have allowed him to live longer and healthier? I don’t know. He died three weeks after his 90th birthday.

Teach us to number our days,” concludes the Psalmist, “that we might apply our hearts unto wisdom.”

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Filed under Aging, Birthdays, care, understanding

Letter 50: With a Shine on Your Shoes

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Last week, I decided to polish my shoes.  It has been a long time since I last did so, and it’s important to keep them polished.  They last longer that way.  It was one of the odd rituals of manhood instilled in me by my father.  I can remember helping him polish his shoes as a child.  He had a wooden shoe-shine box where he kept the supplies.  The handle doubled as a stand for the shoe.  Eventually as I kept my shoes longer, he showed me how to polish my own.

First, remove all visible dirt and debris with a soft brush, then apply the polish.  Wait a few minutes and then buff.  Repeat for additional shine.  For added protection and moisturizing, I learned to apply mink oil, which gave my shoes a glossy shine.  Once complete, take satisfaction in a job well done.

The message was clear, as a man, you take care of your possessions and your appearance.  Learn to sew buttons, darn socks, even hem trousers.  I have now owned the same pair of penny loafers for thirty years.  If you look closely, you’ll know that they’ve been re-soled and re-heeled, but that’s the only real sign of their age.

But it’s getting to be more of a challenge.  The last time I had my shoes worked on, I had to use a local dry-cleaner, as there are no cobblers in my area.  The same seems to apply to tailors.  Perhaps this is why people dress up so infrequently these days.  There is something about wearing a suit tailored to your frame.  Clothes off the rack have an element of shapelessness to them.  But then, we live in a shapeless age.

It may seem strange to you to find a reflection on something as prosaic as shoe polishing with all of the screaming headlines demanding our action and attention.  Perhaps, but I would submit that the discipline of keeping your shoes polished builds a frame of mind and character, badly needed.  We would all do well to take care of those things entrusted tour custody, to minimize waste, and to present ourselves at our best, not merely for our own sake, but as a measure of respect due to others.

He that is faithful in the least, he is also faithful in much: and he that is unjust in the least, is unjust also in much. If then ye have not been faithful in the wicked riches, who will trust you in the true treasure? And if ye have not been faithful in another man’s goods, who shall give you that which is yours?”  Luke 16: 10-12 (Geneva)

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