Just say no to woes

An odd little fact: “Hello” was never used as a greeting until the invention of the telephone. Before that, it was either a hunting call or an exclamation of surprise.

But when the phone was invented, the need for a short, clear greeting arose. Edison favored “Hello”; Alexander Graham Bell wanted “Ahoy.” We know whose suggestion won.

So how’s all that relevant today? Simple. I think it’s time for one of our standard greetings to be replaced, namely, “How are you?”

Actually, I don’t think it needs to be replaced for everyone, only for folks asking people my age and beyond.


The answer’s obvious: When my geriatric goombahs are asked how they are, they’ll take you literally and will tell you their medical woes, in encyclopedic medical detail.

Ask any greybeard how he’s doing, and you’ll hear something like, “Well, the blood pressure’s a bit high, but nothin’ like it was last year. And lemme tell ya about that. No, on second thought I won’t bore you. Besides, I don’t pay much attention to my blood pressure ever since my bursitis started raising hell with my shoulder, hurt almost as much as my knees. Doc gave me some joint meds -?Achebanitol, I think which made my shoulder feel better but about gave me an ulcer. But I don’t wanna talk about my aches and pains, especially since I noticed this patch of weird skin on my wrist one day. See it? Yeah, well, I went in to have it checked out and “

These are less medical explanations as they are masterful orations. And they well should be, since the speaker has delivered them as often as the average politician does his lies.


Of course this health obsession is only a logical consequence of aging. Let me give you an illustrative example.

When I was in the service, suddenly and for no reason, I started getting chest pains. They weren’t constant or debilitating, but they were certainly noticeable. I knew a 23-year-old having a heart attack was a rarity, but given my family history of heart disease (the two of which are synonymous), I decided to get it checked.

The doctor was a good doctor and a good guy. He was also from the Deep deep South who spoke with an accent you could cut with a chainsaw, e.g., he pronounced my name “Rah-bert.”

He gave me a thorough exam and when he got done he said, “Son, there’s nothing to worry about. You’ve got the lungs of a horse and the heart of a horse.”

“So whatta ya think caused the pains?” I asked.

“Well,” he said, “I’d just that say Rah-bert is havin’ himself some chest pains.”

And that was that. It made sense to me, and I never gave it another thought.

and now

Now we fast-forward to a few years ago.

It’s late night, I’m home, correcting papers, when I notice I’ve got a small pain, between my shoulder blades. I think nothing of it till I suddenly remember my friend Alison’s brother. And why I remember him is he had a back pain for several days and then had a heart attack.

It’s just a back pain, I tell myself, and go back to correcting my papers.

But as I go over the papers, I find I’m paying less attention to the writing and more attention to my pain.

This is not like my chest pain when I was 23 for one very good reasonor perhaps for 40 reasons, which is how many more years have gone by since then. As I reasoned at the time, 23-year-olds rarely have heart attacks. As I am reasoning now, 63-year-olds have them all the time. And more exactly, I know a guy who had one that started with a back pain.

I check my pulse. It’s fine. So’s my breathing. I’m not sweating, there’s no pain in my chest or radiating down my left arm.

I’m really OK I think.

And then I start to do wha a lot of people in my predicament do I second-, third-, and fourth-guess myself. And as I do, my pulse increases, my breath becomes shorter, I feel my pulse beating in my temples.

I grab the phone and call My Brother The Doctor.

“Hey, hate to call at this hour,” I say, “but I’ve got a back pain.”

‘Yeah? he says. “And what else?”

“Uh nothing else,” I say.

“So you’ve got a back pain. What’re you worried about?”

I tell him about Alison’s brother.

He pauses for a bit and then speaks in his doctor voice.

“Well,” he says, “you’re not presenting any of the classic symptoms of a heart attack.”

“So I’m not having one?” I say.

“I didn’t say that,” he says. “I just said you don’t have any of the classic symptoms.”

“So what does that mean?”

“Just what I said,” he says.

“I call up to get some sort of diagnosis and reassurance,” I say, “and I end up listening to an oracle.”

“Hey,” he says, “it’s the best I can do without co-pay.”

“First it was an oracle,” I say. “Now it’s Henny Youngman.”

“Look,” he says. “it doesn’t sound like you’ve got anything more than a back pain. But if you really want to be sure, go to the ER.”

Of course he’s right. But he’s also introduced another element -?going to the ER. If I really am having some sort of cardiac mishegas, it’s the only thing to do. But if I’m not, it’s a total waste of time, money, and worst of all – my cool.

I can see the ER staff yucking it up when I leave.

“Getta load of the Dope in Bay Three. He’s here for a back pain.”

“He’s a back pain.”

(Subdued but snide laughter follows.

“Next time he’ll show up with a hangnail.”

(More laughter)

I mull over all the scenarios – pro, con, and somewhere in between.

Finally, I make my decision.

I get in my car, and drive – but not to the hospital.

Instead, I go to Stewart’s, where I buy soda and ice cream. When I come home, I make a huge ice cream float.

It’s not heart smart, but it is just what the doctor ordered.

Of course, in this case, my doctor was Dr. Pepper.