Thursday, July 8, 2010

Annual Check-Up

There cannot possibly be anyone who relishes the prospect of the annual physical examination by their Physician. For men in particular, the process is punctuated with a singularly unpleasant probe heralded by the snap of rubber gloves. But equally off-putting and just as demeaning is the corollary of having to go to the clinic subsequently to submit to the blood work requisitioned by the Physician, and then having to wait to hear what if anything is wrong with you. The entire enterprise is a jarring interruption of one’s preferred daily customs, and there is nothing elegant about the medical environment, characterized as it is by overworked professionals and staff, growing numbers of decrepit people and dilapidated facilities. Canadian mores have ensured that the universal health system is the great leveller of society. I won’t say, however, that the affair has yet reached the height of humiliation which the Customs officials at the airports have managed to perfect in recent years.

We are constantly hearing the value of annual medical check-ups. No doubt there are some who, by reason of paranoia, welcome the opportunity to disprove their medical advisors. But by and large, discretionary invitation of drama and calamity is not the number one choice. Indeed it is quite likely than many of us rationalize the value of ignorance on the point. If in fact Nature teaches us how to die, there is a very good possibility that given reasonable patience an introduction to the swan song is inevitable, the slippery slope of physical decline and wane. To imagine that one can by mere due diligence escape the foreseeable future is perhaps a dream, one which is best left unaided before translating it into a nightmare.

When one is past one’s sixtieth year of existence, there is something fundamentally offensive about forcing oneself like so much machinery to undergo routine maintenance. Quite frankly I happen to know that of all the splendid clocks and intricate time pieces I own, none works so well as those which have been left alone. The moment you begin to meddle with the works, that’s when things start to go wrong. Furthermore in the sphere of human vitality I suspect there is more than a grain of truth to the observation that health is very much an issue of mind over matter and per force the strength or feebleness of the one will predict the vigour or frailty of the other. Such a posture is not of course compelling to the knowledgeable majority who insist upon uncovering every possible source of disturbance. To them I have to ask, “What advantage? At what cost?” Let me be clear, however, that this seemingly offhand retort is not meant to disguise the legitimate need to address a tangible symptom. I say this in spite of the repeated notion of the value of early detection. My experience is that only when the dilemma is in bloom is it appropriate to call in Mr. Bones, as precipitous as that may appear.

One mustn’t however discount the “head against the wall” theory which effectively elevates even nuisance investigation to the rarefied sphere of transcendental peace (though frankly it’s a bit of a crap shoot in the end). What prompts us to get our annual physical is not the knowledge of what is to come, but the hope of what isn’t to come, and our relief upon discovering it. Yet we must appreciate that it isn’t for the faint of heart to dabble in the realm of physical decay. Chances are that things can go wrong. On the other hand, and thanks to the unending capacity of the human mind to deceive itself, it is possible for us to live in blissful ignorance of a threatening condition, hitherto undetected and one to which we have progressively acclimatized ourselves. But should one insist upon removing all doubt then the annual check-up is the answer. Good luck!

If you’re one of those people who keep an agenda and routinely “bring forward” repeating commitments, this fixated practice will be an added impediment to the resistance of the annual check-up. It’s just another bad habit, and your failure to perform the duty will only gnaw at you until you do. It is just one more reason to avoid the tradition in the first place. Alas it is too late for me to glean the benefit of my own good advice. I am scheduled to see my Physician at four o’clock this afternoon!

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