Day 79: Doctor’s orders

On Monday I went to see my GP, Dr. S., for a physical exam. Nothing in particular prompted the visit; it just seemed like the sort of thing one should do after one turns 40.

Doctor S. is in her late forties, I would guess. She is friendly and seems intelligent but a little scatter-brained (“what was that other test I said I’d order for you? It’ll come back to me … oh, thyroid! [pause] Was it thyroid?” she’ll ask, looking at me searchingly). She looks perennially exhausted, which she probably is, and I sometimes worry that this fatigue might cause her to misdiagnose me with something, or to accidentally schedule the surgical removal of one of my more vital organs.

“So, what’s new?” she asked when she walked into the examining room.

Since she’s my doctor, I decided to tell her the truth instead of replying with an innocuous, “not much!”

“Everything’s new!” I declared. “My book came out, I got tenure, my husband and I separated, and I moved house!”

She was suitably impressed by my Number-Of-Major-Life-Events-To-Time-Elapsed-Since-Last-Visit-Ratio and went on to ask me a series of questions about whether and how these changes were impacting my health.

At a certain point, inevitably, the topic of alcohol consumption came up. In fact, I raised it by mumbling that I was possibly drinking too much. When I described my not-actually-terribly-excessive drinking habits she agreed that it was a bit much and told me that the recommendation for women was an upper limit of (in the case of wine, which is what I usually drink), seven servings of 5 fluid ounces per week. Moreover, she added, it was also best to have at least 2 days of no drinking at all.

What a bummer, right? When I looked crestfallen at that prospect she said that on those days I should go out for a run, or something, instead of drinking, because exercise would produce a similarly relaxing effect. “And then when you get home from your run,” she went on, “instead of having a glass of wine, have a cup of alcohol.”

I frowned. “A cup of pure alcohol?” I asked, deadpan.

She caught my eye, only then realizing she had misspoken (do you see why I’m worried she’s going to schedule me to have a mastectomy instead of a mammogram?) and then replied, equally deadpan, “no actually, on those days, replace the wine with heroin, pure heroin.” [1]

I nodded sagely and then we both cracked up.

When we’d stopped laughing she clarified. “I meant a cup of herbal tea, not a cup of alcohol.”

“Ah,” I said. “Well, I think I can do that. I’m good at following those sorts of rules. So five days a week I can have five fluid ounces of wine a week—”

She interrupted me, “well, that’s the upper limit—

“No, no, that’s my dosage,” I insisted, interrupting her. “If that’s what I’m allowed, then that’s what I’m having.”

“OK, fine, that’s your dosage,” she conceded wearily, sensing that there was no point in arguing with me about this, which there wasn’t.

That night, I was pleased to discover that five ounces of wine is actually slightly more than I would usually pour myself. “But five ounces is my dosage!” I said gleefully to myself, “this is, for all intents and purposes, what Dr. S prescribed!”

My capacity for deceiving myself is truly marvelous.

If further evidence is required, I have plenty. The very next day some kindly graduate students took me out for tenure-celebration-cocktails. Uncharacteristically, by the time of the cocktail hour, I had eaten precisely zero vegetables that day. I’m not being facetious; it really is uncharacteristic for me to get that far into a day without eating vegetables; as anyone who knows me well is aware, I really love salads, and not in an ascetic way; I just think a nicely composed salad with a well-made vinaigrette is one of the most delicious things to eat. But anyway, due to a series of unfortunate decisions, all I had eaten that day was a piece of toast (plus the younger’s toast crusts, obviously – fibre!); a disgusting vegan cookie, which was really just a bunch of bran glued together with brown rice syrup in a deceptively cookie-like shape (way too much fibre), and then, following my enragement at the cookie’s unpalatableness, a brownie. [2]

By the time I got to the bar, I was craving something green, or, at least, something not brown.

Since the bar, Copa D’Oro, is in Santa Monica, it obviously had the requisite kale salad among its “bar snacks.” But in the end, I opted for what I convinced myself was a terribly efficient vegetal-cocktail solution.

Warning: SJ, you may wish to stop reading now or risk barfing during the next paragraph.

The cocktail I ordered, which they called “Lenin-aid” (was Lenin a big gin drinker? It seems highly unlikely …) was reminiscent of my very own cocktail invention, Boswell’s Revenge. Only this one, it must be said, was superior. It consisted of gin, freshly pressed cucumber and celery juice, and fresh lime juice. And there must have been some simple syrup or something in there. It was so delicious! And moreover, I convinced myself, it was practically a self-cleansing cocktail, with all of chlorofyll-rich cucumber and celery juice surely ameliorating any deleterious effects caused by the gin.

Utter tosh, is that what I heard you say? Well maybe, but it’s like my mate Joe says, “we do not care for seeing through the falsehood, and willingly give ourselves up to such agreeable an imposture” (from Spectator No. 419, perhaps my most favorite of all).


[1] I already knew that Doctor S. had a deadpan sense of humor, although the last time I’d witnessed it on display, I did not appreciate it.

This was a few years ago; I was seeing her to ask about possibly being referred to an infertility specialist. After a miscarriage, we’d been trying to conceive another child for nearly a year without success. I described how I’d been charting my temperature and trying to predict when I was ovulating and all that tediousness, and how I was getting increasingly anxious that I was never going to get pregnant again.

She looked at me, nodding sagely, and then she paused.

“Have you tried having sex?” she asked, completely deadpan.

There was a long pause, and then she cracked up when she registered the flummoxed look on my face.

“Sorry!” she said.

I actually now find this really funny but at the time I thought to myself, “this is the WORST possible joke for a doctor, of all people, to make to her patient when she knows that that patient is struggling to conceive a child,” and I wanted to throttle her.

[2] In order to find out why I would have elected to buy a disgusting pseudo-healthy vegan cookie instead of something more obviously satisfying, like a nice bar of chocolate, you will have to read the next post.