Let us hear a tale of two doctors, good and ill. The lessons it teaches points to longevity – the happy variety – and how to achieve it.
There’s a lot of advice online, beyond mine. Can you trust it? In the matter of health, sound body, and mind, trust your own common sense, I say – informed by a good doctor. More on this presently.
There’s no point in achieving prosperity and living a long time if we’ll spend it in misery. Yes, as a Catholic, I would tell you that suffering ennobles the spirit – most religions agree. Yet given the choice, as weak flesh, we’d rather find graciousness in sunnier fields, hopefully full of charity, and certainly leisure, perhaps with a slight whiff of perfumed luxury – don’t mention the last one to my priest.
Dr. M, my MD in Moscow, once inflicted a full-body battery of tests – “At your age, it is time,” he said. I’d just turned 50, it made sense, and Frère Doctor sold it gently; he knew how I worried. After some weeks, all complete; time for the vaguely dread verdict:
“My friend, you’re quite healthy. Despite all appearances to the contrary.”
I admit it: I don’t look anything like those grey-haired wonders in life insurance ads, mountain biking or skiing, all smiling capped teeth – the industry’s dream customer. Alas, I look more like Greek philosopher Epictetus, the father of gastronomes, who never said ‘oxi’ to a third helping.
Yet I’m still banging the keyboards with vigor. I must be doing something right.
Dr. M once told me the secret to quit smoking. Here it is, no prescription or charge: “You smoke, not because you are addicted; it simply is pleasing to you. Zeez patches, zat gum, ze suppositories – all are bull[excised). One day, you will say: ‘I am an adult, I choose my fate’. Then you may quit, just like zat.”
He really did talk like Inspector Clouseau; he really was wise as a bereted Socrates. One day I got sick of the smokes and quit, just like that – well, it took ten years, and Singapore’s humidity, which ruins the taste. I still swan around the globe, though nowadays without so much wheezing.
Fifty is tough, no doubt about it. Twenty-five years ago, my older brother Paul hit five-oh. “A third of the way there,” he told me. Today, he’s uncannily spry for a vegetarian. He’s added fish to his diet; it does wonders for vitality. Our ancient ancestors knew fish strengthened the intellect, in old age particularly, and the scientists have caught up – yes it does, nod the white coats. It’s nice when the moderns catch up to history.
Paul is retired today, but volunteers at a nature center near his home in southern Wisconsin. He’s always loved birding; now three days a week, he wends the long paths, in heat, frost, and breezes, observing and tracking, feeling his heart beating. No iron man nonsense; no skiing nor surfboards. A contemplative walk with the Creator and nature, he puts it. Age 75; halfway to the goal, Paul says.
Ah yes, I forgot the bad doctor; here comes the fun. In Singapore, a different MD and I were having a chat about cholesterol, blood pressure – I won’t overstimulate you. Doc stopped his probing, went to retrieve a cold instrument to prod me, and another stethoscope-swinger strolled in the exam room.
He fixed me with a scowl, quizzed harshly: “Do you have diabetes?” No. I do not.
“You’re going to get it,” he spat. If the next day had not been Sunday, I would have thumped his head on the tile floor.
He did get a piece of my mind. Wishing chronic illness on a patient – one you have never examined – is unconducive to either party’s health. Worry makes us sick – Greeks ancient and modern don’t need to tell you. Take your dread-side manner elsewhere, I warned him.
Dr. M was well versed in the matter. Once, I had a terrible pain. He said, “It’s not cancer at least; let’s take a look.” Two weeks later, I came back for results, and he rushed in with joy.
“It’s not cancer!” I thought you said…