Thursday 14 December 2017

In rude health, despite all the worrying

Don't be in denial, get regular health checks at the doctor's, says Barry Egan

DIFFERENT WAY OF LOOKING AT IT: Woody Allen said he wasn’t afraid of dying — he just didn’t want to be there when it happened.
DIFFERENT WAY OF LOOKING AT IT: Woody Allen said he wasn’t afraid of dying — he just didn’t want to be there when it happened.
If something terminal did crop up, then Barry Egan could always consider trying the path taken by Walter White in Breaking Bad

I had blocked out this memory for most of my life. It was a humiliating, humbling indignity. It also hurt me a lot - physically and psychologically. There was blood in my underpants. Not a lot of blood.

Red specks.

Little red specks.

It doesn't matter how long ago the degradation occurred. The memory still gives me a physical sensation that puts me back, uncomfortably, in the school yard.

And being kicked in the balls by some bullies who thought someone with red hair was worthy of rupturing between the legs. . .

My mother Maureen brought me to the doctor near the school, near where we lived. It was a female doctor. I had something wwa little damaged there. I was bruised. I was upset.

I was shaking, too, on the examination table, like a puppy being brought to the vet.

I was sick and embarrassed to the point of crying by being examined by a female doctor with my mother present.

I was 10, but the memory comes up whenever anybody starts talking about men's health and how important it is to have regular checks down there for testicular cancer - one of the main killers of men ... blah, blah, blah.

My mother is dead now and I'm sure the doctor is too. I'm a grown-up man of 47; still, you asked me to go to the doctor to get a full check-up, I would almost feel sick at the thought of it.

Does that make me neurotic? Maybe it is does, but I haven't been for a check for a long time. When I do go, it puts me back in the doctor's room as a 10-year-old. I didn't like that feeling much at all.

So when it comes to my health and going to the doctor for regular check-ups, I would be a bit of eejit, if not a complete fool. I am certainly a committed dilly-dallier.

Indeed when Craig Brown wrote in The Spectator, "My life is a monument to procrastination, to the art of putting things off until later, or much later, or possibly never," I immediately thought he had pinched that from my innermost thoughts.

Men delay seeking help in the false belief that if they ignore something, it will go away. I am one of those men. I worry about my health - about my death - but I won't do anything about it.

I'm kind of with Woody Allen on this. I'm not afraid of death. I just don't want to be there when it happens. I worry about being killed in a plane crash almost as much I worry about dying of prostrate cancer. . .

When I'm asked to go to Paris to interview Prince, my first thought isn't, I love Purple Reign. My first thought is the plane will go down in flames.

My first thought when I have to go to the doctor for a check-up is: I have cancer.

I watched my dad die of cancer in the hospice in Harold's Cross.

The staff were lovely, lovely, lovely people, saints even, but to my mind hospices are absolutely horrible places - in fact, the most un-lovely places on the planet. So I'd rather be killed in a plane crash than die in a hospice.

Now that I have committed that neurotic thought to print I immediately think that the fates will eventually conspire against me and that I will either die in a hospice of cancer or in a plane crash - or in a plane crashing into a hospice.

I hate hospitals almost as much as I hate hospices. My mother died in St. Vincent's. I fear I'll succumb on the operating table for no apparent reason. I'd rather expire at home listening to James Brown at full blast singing Get Up Offa That Thang. Of course, I am being slightly perverse here. . .

I go to the gym every morning at 7am. I run three kilometres - my best time is 15 minutes and 30 seconds. (And, yes, I am not unamused about Peter O'Toole's famous quip about "The only exercise I take is walking behind the coffins of friends who took exercise.")

Then I go for a swim with my wife in the pool, before power-walking into work, and I am at my desk at 8.30am.

I love my wife/life/house/job. I get to interview artists and pop stars and film stars I love in far-flung places and get paid well for the privilege. I am usually a very happy person, with a smile or a bad joke not very far from my lips. I think I have an above-average emotional intelligence. Yet perhaps in the most important area I am deliberately as stupid as you can get: my health.

Whenever I go to see a doctor (I haven't been to one since 2007 - please note: this is a very, very, very stupid way to live your life), I harbour a dark dread that he or she will uncover something untreatable and incurable maybe - something cruel and unforgiving, like cancer, something that would kill me painfully, immediately, or in a few short years, and rob me of all dignity. Something that could have been cured or treated or dealt with had I gone for regular check-ups and not buried my head in the sand like a neurotic death-obsessed ginger ostrich.

With age comes, not wisdom, so much as slow but certain decay. I remember 10 years ago having lunch in the Unicorn with the late Hugh Leonard and hoping for great truths he might impart. There were no answers, he told me, as we enjoyed a good bottle or two of wine instead.

At 47, my waistline is much thicker and my hair much thinner than they were at 37. I never tried Regaine perhaps fearing it is too late for my terrifyingly expanding bald patch at the back of my head. My little sister Marina offered to get me Botox as a present for my birthday last year.

I put the phone down on her.

They say that as you get older it is all downhill for men: energy loss leading to depression to loss of libido to a loss of testosterone and sexual dysfunction. It's like puberty in reverse. It is all housed in one dark place called Midlife Crisis.

The changes are hormonal, psychological, interpersonal, social, sexual and spiritual, even metaphysical.

And I didn't even mention coronary heart disease or ED problems. I usually do nothing deeper than read the cartoons in the New Yorker for answers. I find laughter is the best medicine - much better certainly than worrying yourself to death.

I don't allow myself to catastrophise any more. Life is too short for that. And with the economy in tatters and most of us up to our ears in debt - and water charges and house taxes - there is already enough to drag us down.

I read an article in US Men's Vogue a few years ago that said men in their forties face a dark U-shaped curve where life turns tough during middle age culminating in something catastrophic called Andropause.

I have to say I haven't noticed a decreased enjoyment of life. If anything (despite the constant thought that any twinge in my body is the cancer saying: 'Hello, put the kettle on, I've something to tell you!') I'm happier than ever. And my life has never been better.

My wife has just had a baby. My baby. In the course of my extensive reading on babies and fatherhood, I came across Freud saying that that the act of birth is the first experience of anxiety, and thus the source and prototype of the affect of anxiety.

Freud is clearly talking out his backside, because the act of birth I witnessed filled me up with nothing but pure joy. So much joy that I'm even thinking of going to the doctor for regular health check-ups, in order to be around for the child's 20th and 30th birthdays.

And if anything terminal crops up in the meantime, like Walter White in Breaking Bad, I can always operate a secret crystal meth lab to provide income for my wife and family after I've gone.

Sunday Independent

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