It’s a pretty stupid joke, actually. There’s nothing particularly funny about not taking care of your health (my other bad joke that I often repeat to myself: “I ignore my organs. And my organs ignore me.”). But the weird thing is, I’ve been healthy pretty much my whole life. So I almost never gave my health a second thought.
In truth, with my lifestyle, I probably should have been dead by age 40. I’ve drunk an ocean of cheap, rot-gut malt liquor. I smoked a pack a day for 20 years. I’ve dabbled in just about every drug. And my diet is basically crap. I rarely eat for health reasons. I mostly eat for pleasure, and I’ll eat whatever junk I happen to be craving. My diet is mostly heavy on meat and cheese and fried stuff and anything crunchy-salty. Occasionally I’ll eat a vegetable for good luck. But that’s about it.
I guess I just got good genes. Both my parents are still fairly physically active in their 80s. And I guess it’s the least they could do for me, considering the corollary bad mental health genes they also passed on to me. Or maybe it’s just a matter of dumb luck. One thing that probably saved me. I spent my 20s as a bike messenger getting an incredible amount of physical exercise. And I spent my 30s running full-court basketball every day. So by the time I hit my 40s I was still in great physical shape, and able to coast for about 15 years before, alas, my “lifestyle” finally started catching up with me. (Just this last year, at age 58, I’ve noticed that when I stand up my legs often feel weak and wobbly. And I’ll think: “Gee, what’s this shit?” Then I realize: “Oh yeah, I’m old.”)
By the time I hit 50 I was still in excellent physical shape. Didn’t feel much different than when I was 20. It wasn’t until age 54 that I had my first “brush with my mortality” (as they say). I suddenly started losing the sight in my left eye. I went to the eye doc and he gave me the bad news. “You got glaucoma. You’re legally blind in your left eye, 20-200. And there’s no cure for it. And you could very well lose the sight in your right eye, too. If you’re out there living on the streets, completely blind, you’re going to be in a world of hurt.”
Well, that gave me pause.
Generally, I have a bit of an attitude about western medicine. I think they wa-a-ay over-proscribe medication. (I’ve heard there are all kinds of shady deals with the big pharmaceutical companies doling out billions to the doctors to ply their patients with their meds). I also think they often know a lot less than they really know. That they’re bluffing half the time, doing their hocus pocus and “pay-no-attention-to-the-little-man-behind-the-screen” act.
But then one morning I woke up and there was this BURNING sensation on the right side of my forehead. I swear to god, it was the most painful thing I had ever felt. It was like the flesh on my face was being eaten alive. In fact, that’s exactly what it was. Overnight, I had developed this weird, hard scab all over my forehead, the likes of which I had never seen before. And the pain was non-stop. This burning, maddening pain. So I did what I usually do. Just tried to forget about it for 3 or 4 days and wait for my body to heal itself. But it just kept getting worse and worse.
So I dropped in on my eye doctor, because my initial hunch was that it was an adverse reaction to this new glaucoma medication I was on. He said: “Nope. It’s shingles. Usually caused from stress. Shingles is basically adult chicken pox. And if you don’t get that taken care of and get the proper medication it’s going to keep eating you alive.”
So I go to a local Berkeley hospital. Explain my desperate plight to the woman at the front counter. I don’t have any kind of medical coverage or anything (I’ve been paying for my eye stuff with cash). The woman at the front desk says: “Sorry, there’s nothing we can do for you. The only thing I can suggest is that you go to Highland, the county hospital.”
Now I’m really in a panic. Because I’m in hideous pain. And I know the ever-growing shingles sore that was covering half of my forehead was most likely disfiguring me for life (and I’m a vain person, so that added insult to injury). Highland was about a 2 hour bus-ride away on the far side of Oakland. And then you’d have to wait in line all day with the other poor people before you finally got to see a nurse. And then, you’d have to wait all day to get your prescription filled. So now I was really fucked. I’m hurting so bad, I’m biting my lip to keep from crying.
But, as luck would have it, this doctor just happened to be passing by in the hallway, and he over-heard my plight at the front desk. He said: “Hey, come back here to my office.” He led me back to this cubicle. “Here. Here’s the medication you need. Take it like every couple of hours for the next two weeks and the shingles will eventually start to clear up.”
“Gee thanks,” I gasped. Finally a ray of hope amidst my sad-sack misery.
“But for god’s sake, don’t tell anyone I did this. I could get in trouble for doling out medication without a prescription.”
“Mum’s the word,” I mumbled.
And it was like a miracle. I started taking the medication and I could almost immediately feel the shingles virus start to recede. And within a couple weeks it had completely cleared up. Aside from a nasty scar. Guess that ruins my chance for a career in motion pictures. But I gotta’ hand it to western science on this one. They really know their stuff when it comes to shingles.