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Health check always comes in the summer

By BY PATRICK HUBBELL
July 21, 2012 at 2:21 a.m.

Patrick Hubbell

Summertime, and the livin' is easy! Summertime is when all my honey-do chores get knocked out after I turn in the key to my classroom.

I need the distraction for the unpleasant prospect of medical visits. At my age, medical appointments are just nature's way of reminding me that the Grim Reaper is keeping book. After 30, according to Bette Midler, the body has a mind of its own. The mind in my body keeps telling me to take a nap.

I brush and floss daily without fail, but I was jolted into scheduling an appointment with my dentist when my tongue felt a bony surface that wasn't there before. I thought a wisdom tooth was emerging from a gummy slumber. It turned out to be a popcorn kernel that had attached itself like a barnacle. But I also noticed I had started to sound like Obama with his sibilant whistle.

My parents made a considerable investment in my mouth with braces and a retainer, so I dutifully arrived with a blank check and a book to read.

A cheerful hygienist introduced herself and promptly set to work scraping the accretions of plaque, the dental equivalent of graffiti on concrete overpasses.

I don't know what the requirements are to be a dental hygienist, but well-developed forearm muscles must be a plus. I got a little nervous when she put her foot against the wall for leverage as she worked on a blister of plaque on one of my teeth with a sharp hook. So help me, I heard her mutter "Wow!" as it gave way with a "pop!" like she had pulled a cap off a bottle of champagne.

Dentistry has developed new technology since my last visit. One new item that has invaded the oral cavity is a vibrating water-squirting instrument that makes a high-pitched squeal like a hundred angry mice rummaging about in my head. I wished for someone to stick an ice pick in my eardrums.

Mercury-era pilots with the Right Stuff complained that medical visits are always a losing proposition. Either you hold your own, or you get a negative. Last time, I left with two prescription slips. A nurse summoned me for my vital signs. After she removed the blood pressure cuff, she asked, "Do you drink the same amount of alcohol as your last visit?"

"Well," I drawled, "I don't drink anymore." She started to make a note, then I added, "but I don't drink any less, either." It was funny when Dean Martin said it, but I'm guessing his nurse didn't find it funny, either. She sent me to the examination room, and brusquely pulled down a length of paper for me to sit on. I thought I saw her put a tube of K-Y Jelly in the refrigerator next to the stethoscope.

The doctor came in, set up his laptop computer, and began entering data from my blood test. He cleared his throat and asked how things were going with work, children, whatever. I offered some perfunctory information, nothing I wouldn't say to a stranger trying to sell me insurance in the teachers' lounge. I wanted the unvarnished truth without the preliminaries. Would I have to give up Mexican food, pasta, chocolate . . . BEER?

Years ago, a Nun Study proved that lots of water, exercise, balanced diet, crossword puzzles, no TV, except for Jeopardy!, tended to lead to longer lives. I wonder what a study of the Christian Brothers would look like? The Christian Brothers, for those who haven't strolled down the aisles of Spec's or had their knuckles rapped with a stick, is the religious order famous for its brandy and stern high school teachers. If nothing else, their brains would be well-preserved.

After more pleasantries and typing, the suspense was over. Take this to the window. See you in six months. The runway was clear for takeoff. I guess all those crossword puzzles I've been working on during inservice have been paying off. The only thing left to worry about was paying for the visits. Health care reform or no, it seems life is going to be the death of me.

Patrick Hubbell lives in Victoria and is a Spanish teacher in the Victoria school district.

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