I walk at lunch, usually, the magic number is 10,000 steps. A number I chase with the zeal of Jonathon Harker pursuing Vlad Dracula. Rain, cold, heat, wind, it doesn’t matter. Sore foot, swollen ankle, tendinitis in the knee, doesn’t matter, I drag them around downtown. I am almost sixty years old, another number that seems to have mystic properties.
My wife gave me a Fitbit for Christmas, and it is addictive. I will walk past a perfectly good elevator to climb the stairs. After a couple of flights I will almost collapse on the landing, Darth Vader sounds echoing up and down the stairwell. But, my Fitbit will buzz with delight, even as my life is fading away on the last few steps before the floor where we keep the coffee maker. An aroma of dark, hot, liquid beauty is the only thing that keeps me going.
My doctors keep getting younger, children, really, like my sons, I want to ask them if they need a few dollars, maybe a gift card for the gas station. The newest version is barely out of school. He looks back and forth from the computer screen to me, and make noises, tsks, sighs, and almost silent groans. I miss the days of clipboards and paper. There was some permanence, something tangible about the rigid plastic board and the shiny chrome clip locking down the crisp, clean paper. Now my life and health have been reduced to a series of zeroes and ones scrolling across an LCD screen. A video game with me as the hero, chasing eternity through a minefield of health hazards, problems associated with aging and a diet rich in deliciousness.
At some point my doctor, who looks so innocent, young, childlike will start talking about test results. Not his test results from algebra, English literature, biology, no my test results. Eventually he will tell me, in all seriousness, my numbers are too high, or too low, and I need to lower or raise my LDL and my HDL to reach another magic number. But, it is a number that seems arbitrary, impossible, changing. A moving target I’ve been chasing for years. In fact, without my numbers changing too much I have become “at risk” because their numbers change so much.
And then he will ask that dreaded question, “How often do you take your medicine?” A chill will run up my spine, and my grip will tighten on the padded exam table. I will look away in shame, humiliated. Breathing will become difficult, and my face will turn warm, uncomfortable, crimson with guilt.
“Most of the time.” I say. “Some of the time.” I add. “Once in a while,” I croak.
My doctor, who might be in middle school, will look around the computer screen separating us, and he will take a deep breath. I wonder how his skin is so clear, how free of acne, I wish my skin could have looked so remarkable when I was so young.
“Mr. Clark, Tim, do you mind if I call you Tim?” He won’t wait for an answer. “Tim, you and I are a team, and you are not doing your part. I write the prescriptions and you take them and we can hit that magic number. We can make sure you live a long and healthy life.”
It’s already been pretty long, I will think. In fact the last five minutes have been an eternity. But, I will say “I know, Doctor. I will do better.”
He will smile and talk about my weight, and he will give me a goal, a number of pounds I need to lose, a magic number that will make him happy. And I want to make him happy, he is nice, and has a long life ahead of him, and if you have something to smile about the years seem so much better.
And, that is the real magic. Happiness given is happiness received. My doctor makes me happy with all of his concern, his care, his admonishment. I make him happy by promising to eat more vegetables, take my medicine and lose some weight. We both walk away feeling good about ourselves. We are a team, sort of.