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RSVPhillippi | October 2017


What's Up Doc?

By Dennis Phillippi

One of my very closest friends, who happens to be almost exactly the same age as me, was recently informed that the time had come for him to get a colonoscopy. We both turn 54 this month, and if you haven’t had “the procedure” by this age it’s high time you did. Relax; we won’t be dwelling on his near future. My friend’s primary physician is, of all things, the daughter-in-law of my primary physician. I can remember when my doctor’s son was in high school. That’s how long he’s been my doctor.

When I met my doctor a quarter of a century or so ago, I thought there had been some sort of mistake. He was so young I thought possibly I was supposed to be seeing his father. He was almost as young as I was, which was more than a little disconcerting since at the time I didn’t feel old enough to qualify to rent a car and this guy had finished medical school. Part of me was nervous about having such a young sawbones. Another part of me was embarrassed that while he had managed to make it through residency and join a practice, and I still wore Spiderman pajamas. It was also odd to have “a doctor.” At that age when I would hear the phrase “call your doctor immediately” I thought; “Who has a doctor? And who has their doctor’s phone number?” Suddenly I had “a doctor”. I still don’t have his phone number. Before this I was one of those people who only saw a medical professional in an emergency room. It was a wholly new experience to go to see a doctor without being bleeding. To sit in a nice quiet waiting room, flipping through magazines older than me, and not be sitting next to people screaming because they had a drill bit in the side of their head or they had decided that putting off having this baby couldn’t be done any longer made me feel like such an adult.

Over the years I’ve gotten to know the people who work in my doctor’s office and they’re all lovely people. Or at least they’ve learned to appear to be. My doctor has spent much of our time together explaining that my health habits are not the best. I spend a lot of time lying to him about my health habits. The whole system seems to be working fine.

My wife has clear memories of her childhood physician and visits to his office where she would get kind treatment and a lollipop. I was the youngest of six lower middle-class children, four of whom were boys, and the two girls were both athletes and tough as a two-dollar steak. If a medical condition didn’t require stitches, a cast, or reducing a malarial fever, we went with the time-honored holistic treatment of gauze, an ace bandage, aspirin, or “waiting it out.”

On a side note, I remember once having a drama teacher who suggested that I get braces. I remember laughing out loud at the idea of approaching my parents with this outlandish notion. “Let me get this straight” I could hear my mother saying, “you want us to spend thousands of dollars so you can have straight teeth? Sure, would you like for us to pay for you to go to a masseuse?” It’s a pretty safe bet that we weren’t carrying a lot of insurance. My father once made a bridge for his teeth out of wire and some rocks he found in the yard and ground down himself. I am not making that up. Somehow I was proud and mortified at the same time.

From the time I left my parent’s house at 17 until I met my wife at 21, I probably ended up in the emergency room a half dozen times, insuranceless, and to be honest with you, I have no idea who paid for it. It certainly wasn’t me, which means it was you. Whenever I meet someone who objects to universal health care I always point this stretch out. I was the reason other people were paying $16 for an aspirin, because I went to a hospital knowing full well I had no way of paying. Now I’m the one paying for those pricey painkillers. Let’s get these deadbeats some insurance.

Now I don’t just have a doctor, I have doctors. I have a primary physician, an eye doctor, an orthopedist, and like my buddy, a gastroenterologist. It’s all a matter of aging. Like collecting out-of-fashion clothing, broken appliances that can’t be fixed because they’re a decade out of warranty, we also collect doctors as we age. I know these people by name and they know me by condition. The oddest part is the fact that now they’re all more or less my contemporaries. We could be friends; if it weren’t for the fact that several of them have seen parts of me my wife hasn’t seen. It’s hard to imagine going to play golf with a guy who has seen your lower G.I.

In the coming years I know there will be new, and younger, doctors. There will be gerontologists and rheumatologists who will treat me like a very tall child. I’ll be like every other elderly patient, grumpy and demanding and unable to understand that I am unable to understand things. Eventually I’ll be convinced an orderly has stolen my watch, even though I haven’t worn a watch in decades. And there, after all the various medical professionals from all those years, will still be my primary physician, there to usher me to the other side while cheerfully enumerating all of the things he told me to stop doing so wouldn’t end up like this. I’m already irritated thinking about it.