Mortality

Carry on DoctorSo, on a brief diversion from fatherhood I feel compelled to talk about something a little more sombre this week; namely my own mortality. Okay, not the happiest of subjects but bear with me. I’ve arrived at fatherhood (okay, I’m going to mention it a little bit) relatively late. By relative, I mean that my own father was twenty-three when I was born, whilst I by contrast, am leaving the house patting down my pockets for keys, wallet, phone, dummy at the grand old age of forty one.

Not only are my sons, painfully blue eyes and unblemished skin a constant reminder that my body ain’t what it used to be- though in truth I can’t ever remember my skin being unblemished- but it’s fair to say if I was a car, the dashboard would be lighting up with ‘check engine’ warning lights pretty much most of the time.
I’m sure some will remember my blog’s about getting older, and I don’t want to hark on about previous health scares but whereas in your twenty’s, death and serious illness is something that happens to others, passing forty is a reminder that those others, now include you.

I am getting a little nervous about how conversations with other people of my age group have started recently. All too frequently they begin with, ‘oh you know John Smith, you know he’s just been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer; didn’t even smoke.’ or ‘do you know who’s dead?’ Now I am not making light of any serious illness but the frequency of its occurrence in those I know recently has had me checking for lumps and other biological hitch-hikers a lot more often than I used to.

The problem is that I am a panicker. And for panicker, read hypochondriac. A state of mind that twenty years ago would have been easy to quash. But in this day and age Dr Google positively encourages you to overreact. Recently I found an aforementioned lump on my person, not in a particularly sensitive area, but close enough to realise it was unlikely to have received planning permission there. Unfortunately I discovered it on Friday evening, which meant I had no access to a Doctor and so in the time honoured tradition of all hypochondriacs set about ‘Googling’ my symptoms in order to alleviate my fears over the weekend.

After half an hour, I was convinced I was going to die. When you enter a set of symptoms into goggle, no matter how vague or unremarkable, more often than not you are directed to health forums. These are websites- meeting places if you will- where other hypochondriacs attempt to outdo each other with how horrific the outcome of their particular symptoms are: –

John@325- Hi, everyone woke up this morning with a slight headache. I was drinking heavily last night-don’t remember how much- but I woke up, upside down behind the TV and my eyebrows shaved off. Should I see a Doctor?

Pete@overreact2- Hi John@325, it sounds like it could be something. Maybe nothing to worry about, but keep an eye on it.

Tedithinkimadoctor@999- Hey John@325, I agree with Pete@overreact2 but I think you should see a Doctor immediately. I had a friend with identical symptoms and he had memory loss as well. Your amnesia could be the result of a brain tumour.

Lucyimgoingtodie@111- John@325 get to the hospital immediately! This exact thing happened to me and at turns out I only had six hours to live. Ignore your Doctor as well! He insisted I just had a hangover but what does he know with his years of medical training, experience and lack of overreaction.

Rogereverythingsadrama@911- John@325, I’m afraid it’s too late for you! You should have gone straight to a doctor instead of talking to fuckwits like us! The loss of eyebrows is almost certainly because of a rare blood disease that affects only one person in ten million- if of course, you visited a rare tribe in the Congo in the last five years, and partook of a mating ritual not observed for thousands of years- there’s no other explanation I’m afraid. Act quickly and you might get a few more hours to live. I didn’t and now I’m dead.

In short allowing hypochondriacs to congregate on a website that encourages you to panic is like holding a meeting for those people with an acute fear of flying on an Airbus. Of course its much better just to have an open mind, not to panic and get yourself checked should anything untoward appear. Sound advice- if you can follow it.

My scare has prompted me to change my diet, eat more fruit and veg and drink more water. No bad thing, however a quick Google, has confirmed that scientists believe too much fruit can result in too much sugar. Too much sugar equals diabetes. Drinking two litres of water a day, the amount popularly believed to be the minimum volume required for the average male has recently been shown to have no significant benefits and lets face it, means a trip to the cinema involves at least two trips to the bathroom before the damn trailers have finished.

One of the symptoms for colon cancer I noted on a poster at my Doctors, warns patients to look out for ‘loose stools’. I don’t have a clue what ‘loose stools’ are but trust me on this, don’t ever Google it and definitely don’t press images. Another indicator apparently is blood in your stools, which isn’t always obvious. Blood, by the time its worked its way through your digestive system, tends to mix it in with the indigestible material you don’t want- a bit like the strawberry sauce in an chocolate ice cream sundae (I know, I’ve ruined summer time desserts for you) The result is a narrow range of colours that can indicate anything from too much Guinness the night before to stomach cancer. How you differentiate one from the other is anyone’s guess but marching into the toilet grasping a Dulux colour chart tends to raise the eyebrows of those you love.

And on that rather graphic note, I wish you all good health- until next time.

Getting old(er) 2

Getting olderSo, it occurred to me that last week I didn’t really encapsulate everything that bothers me about getting older, particularly since my technological ignorance is hardly a recent development. What I failed to mention was that, ironically, one of my first jobs was as a sales assistant for Currys Electrical, which is a bit like making Britney Spears head of the Bank of England. At the end of my four-week employment (I know, a proud inclusion on my CV) I had sold precisely zero electrical goods. It takes a special kind of sales and product knowledge base to stand in a technological Mecca and convince people that they don’t want to buy anything technological- especially at Christmas.

Anyway I digress. In truth there are much better or rather unfortunate side effects of getting older, especially since I have recently reached the big 4-0. One of the most obvious is injuring yourself. It’s a common misconception that as we get older we are more prone to injury, but this simply isn’t true. What happens is that we injure ourselves just as often but in a much less glamorous way.

I have at last count, received five separate bone breaking injuries in my life and as a twenty or thirty year old I wore those injuries like medals. They show a life lead less ordinary and of adventure and endeavour. I have five titanium pins in my foot, the result of a motorbike accident in Australia. Never mind that my mother could have overtaken me in a golf cart at the speed I was doing: in my mind, and certainly in the mind of others by the time I’ve blatantly embellished the story, I am Barry Sheen, put back together in the style of the three million dollar man; a hero in the making as surgeons sweated through the operation mouthing ‘We can re-build him- the clumsy tit.’

Likewise I sport a slight deformity on the back of my hand, the result of all the bones being broken during a lad’s holiday in Magaluf. What’s that you ask? During a fight perhaps? Or abseiling off some cliffs? Motorbiking again?

No, I got pissed and fell of a mechanical bull. Okay I appreciate it hardly falls into the adventure and endeavour category but what the hell. It was worth the pain, although filling out the accident claim form on my holiday insurance took some creative writing I can tell you.

But now as I pass 40, injury strikes when I’m least expecting it. When I’m least aware. When I’m least awake. In fact it’s whilst I’m asleep. How in Christ’s name I manage to damage myself so substantially whilst unconscious is something I’ve yet to establish. But I have in recent years woken up with injuries more akin to those involved in a serious road traffic accident. I have gone to bed feeling perfectly chipper only to wake up with amongst other things; serious whiplash in my neck: pulled muscles in my back: trapped nerves down my leg. On one memorable occasion my knee almost completely gave way as I walked downstairs for breakfast. It’s gotten to a point I go to bed viewing our thousand pound memory foam mattress like the octagon at the ultimate fighting championships. Short of setting up CCTV in our bedroom there seems no way of knowing what my body gets up to whilst I’m asleep but it appears to be having an awfully good time without me.

All this came to a head two weeks ago when I woke up with possibly the most degrading and it has to be said painful of injuries. I don’t want to be over specific but such an injury is likely to apply to only fifty percent of the population and meant I questioned my wife closely as to whether her threats toward me in the past had got the better of her. She swears not, though I’m beginning to regret not installing that CCTV.

For those of you not aware, testicular torsion (and that includes me until I awoke to a particularly painful demonstration) is a worryingly common phenomenon in men. However like most men, I only visit the Doctor when absolutely necessary, after all other options have been exhausted (principally, complaining to my wife about the pain and being told with little patience ‘Go and see a Doctor then’ to which for some inexplicable reason I turn into the worlds biggest four year old- ‘Don’t wanna see the Doctor!’). Anyway after my dear wife pointed out, via some hastily carried out research on the internet, that testicular torsion if not treated immediately can result in amputation, I was to be found seconds later bounding, somewhat awkwardly, toward the car demanding my wife get me to the hospital pronto.

It has to be said the hospital staff were mercifully professional, but herein lie’s the possible reason most men put off seeing a Doctor. We’re simply not comfortable talking about matters of intimacy. My GP must dread my visits since I treat them like a medical version of the game-show ‘Jeopardy’. All too frequently the conversation go’s like this.

Doctor- ‘What seems to be the problem?’

Me- ‘You tell me, you’re the Doctor.’

Doctor- ‘Mr Curtis, I need to know your symptoms.’

Me- ‘Things that cause a pain in my chest.’

Doctor- ‘I’ll take angina for $500.’

Okay I made the last bit up but you get the point. I think we make it too easy for Doctors anyway. Why should we do their job for them; let them do a bit of medical sleuthing; work for their money. I once suggested to my wife I go see our Vet instead, since at no point has our Springer Spaniel had to perch on the end of the examination table and say ‘You know what Doc, I’m getting terrible water retention round my paws, can you prescribe something?’ Needless to say like most of my suggestions it was met with a look of complete distain and grudgingly I picked the phone up to call the Doctor instead.

As a follow up I was asked to attend the clinic for an Ultrasound scan two weeks later. If like me you’ve confused an MRI scan with an Ultrasound let me set you straight. An MRI scan is a pain free and relatively mundane procedure whereby you are slid into a huge metal tube, which over a half hour period produces a detailed 3D image of your insides.

An Ultrasound is the one employed on pregnant women using a sort of hand held microphone to produce a grainy image on a TV monitor of the developing foetus. Having an Ultrasound of a woman’s baby bump is a beautiful, life affirming experience to be savoured and treasured for many years to come.

Having an Ultrasound of your bollocks is not.

Firstly like a prostate exam (I’ve not had that yet, but now I’ve passed 40 I know it’s coming- can’t wait) the whole experience is pretty degrading. Even though you know it’s necessary, you’re loath to do as you’re told and the Doctors instruction are prone to misunderstanding making the atmosphere even more uncomfortable-

Doctor- ‘Just drop your jeans and lie down on the couch Mr Curtis- no, your boxers as well Mr Curtis.’

Me- ‘Okay.’

Doctor- ‘Now I need you to grab yourself.’

Me- ‘Beg pardon?’

Doctor- ‘Grab yourself (miming action) here.’

Me- (moment for penny to drop) ‘Ah, I see.’

Doctor- ‘And pull up toward your chest.’

Me- ‘My ch-? I’m not Mr Fantastic!’

Doctor- ‘Toward your chest Mr Curtis not to it.’

You see what I mean? You then look across at the monitor to see a grainy image that I would imagine is very different to the one pregnant women see. It was at this point I noticed that the door to examination room had no lock and that anyone could walk in to see me pulling this grotesque pose. The thought then occurred to me that this was all part of an extreme adult version of ‘Punk’d’ and that any second someone would burst in with a video camera to shame me for ever.

Mercifully for all concerned that never happened and I was informed all was clear. And on that life affirming point I’ll sign off. I hope you enjoyed this weeks blog, especially since my recollections have forced me to write it with my legs crossed, and providing I don’t wake up with broken wrists next week I’ll have another written soon.

Getting old(er)

mobility-scooterSo, I was in the pub happily cradling my drink unaware that the conversation was about to take a turn for the worse. Standing in a group of some I knew better than others, one of the fellows- lets call him ‘Brad’- for whatever reason leans across and asks of me quite innocently:

‘So how old are you?’

With a wry smile I replied..

‘Forty’ then immediately added ‘just’.

You see what happened there? Coated in shame the word just slipped out. It is true I passed that milestone only recently (Christ I’m doing it again!) but it’s only later that I reflected on the fact that I had actually been saying that for some time. Like adding ‘just’ took ten years off my age and that ‘Brad’, would reply ‘Oh just forty, that’s alright then, I don’t need to shout for you to hear just yet granddad.’

But then it occurred to me that when it comes to age we are never proud of it. The only thing that changes is our position on the matter and that at some point between, I would say twenty-five and thirty, a transition happens and you stop saying ‘I’m nearly…’ and start saying ‘I’ve just turned…’

Nothing highlights age like technology. Some people manage to keep up with its swift progression. I however am not one of them. A perfect illustration of this is in mobile phone shops. On one occasion, when asked by an assistant why I had picked up a particular model of handset, my reply ‘Because it’s shiny’ had the shop staff circling me in the manner of tiger sharks going around the last survivor of the USS Indianapolis. They couldn’t believe their luck. I’m amazed I didn’t walk out of there clutching a brick. In any case, seizing the opportunity to sell me any old rubbish, the staff did quite the opposite and had me walking out with a mobile phone that required a degree in molecular physics to understand the instruction book.

So why didn’t I confess to not understanding how to use the phone and demand a simpler one? Well I’m a man and I’m just not programmed to admit that I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. Hence a Mobile phone salesman will usually start his pitch to me like this-

‘So this phone has a five point two mega pixel resolution and two gig of memory backed up with a super wombat driven hard drive with extra olive oil ram. All clear so far?’

‘Yes.’ (No)

‘To download pictures, simply connect to your PC, press options, settings, create folder, open up ‘my pictures’, and drag into your drop box. Give it a file name like ‘I’m an IT moron’, and press save then right click your mouse, select delete all. Make sure you convert all you’re pictures to a low resolution JPEG or high resolution clothes peg first- obviously.’

‘Obviously.’ (What’s a drop box?)

‘This phone is compatible with Mac book, Mac pro, Mac air, MacDougal and MacDonald’s. If you’ve got Windows five, you’ll need to upgrade to Windows six unless you have the 2008 version in which case you’ll need to burn your computer and start all over again with something that matches your level of technological ignorance- like an abacus.’

‘Sure.’

‘Are you familiar with the cloud?’

‘Of course.’ (What’s the weather got to do with it?)

My wife, bless her is quite the opposite and plays a computer keyboard like Liberace played the piano. We all too frequently have conversations that go like this-

Me- ‘The computers broken.’

Wife- ‘No it’s not.’

Me- ‘It’s just wiped out everything I’ve just been typing.’

Wife- ‘No it hasn’t.’

Me- ‘This is ridiculous. This is outrageous. I’m going to write and complain. Just as soon as I can get the computer to work. This is people’s lives they’re messing with. Don’t they unders-’

Wife- ‘Are you on the internet?’

Me- ‘Yes.’

Wife- ‘Close it down.’

Me- ‘What the hell will that do? I- Oh. It’s come back up. It was hiding behind the Internet.’

Wife- ‘Yes it was.’

Me- ‘I’m an idiot.’

Wife- ‘Yes you are.’

Of course everything is done on the Internet now and as a result the biggest bain of my life is passwords and their close cousin, usernames. I have, at last estimate, approximately twenty different passwords. I’m convinced that my computer has a worse memory than me because in spite of the fact that I whenever I log into a website, I tick that little box that says ‘remember me’, without fail by the time I return it will have forgotten me.

Often it will give me a chance to have my password sent to my e-mail address. Terrific, but instead of reminding me it asks me to change it. But if I change it to something obvious and that I might remember, like my hometown, it scolds me for being an unimaginative nitwit and risking having my identity stolen (a welcome possibility during these moments). So I change it to something less obvious and equally less memorable and because we are advised not to write anything down something that I will promptly forget.

So I try again. This time I forget my username. The website decides to ask me some highly confidential questions to verify who I am:

What is your hometown?

So eventually after completing the worlds shittest pub quiz on my personal life it agrees to send my username to my e-mail address.

I try again and… success!

Now I have access to the site I decide I want to purchase something. I enter my bank account details. The website has a think about it and decides I’m still not to be trusted and so my bank asks me to enter my authorising bank code.

I smash my head off the wall and decide to ring the bank for my bank code.  They ask for one of my direct debits as proof of who I am. My direct debits are set up so I don’t have to remember who to pay and how much every month. I confess I’m not sure. They advise me to use my online banking to find out what they are.

After I’ve finished crying I get in the car and drive to the shops to purchase what I want.

Apparently there is an app that allows you to store all your passwords but almost certainly it would require a password and equally as certain I would forget it. I often wonder just how much longer I’ll be haunted by this security nightmare. Knowing my luck when my time on earth is at an end I’ll arrive at the pearly gates only to be met by St Peter who’ll request I enter my password and username into a consol before being admitted.

And on that sombre note, I’ll sign off. I apologise this blog was a bit late and I hope to have next weeks done on time. Unless of course I forget my computers password. In which case I’ll be too busy trying to remember my home town, my first car, my mothers maiden name or any other indiscriminate facts I and pretty much any of my friends would know..