It’s that time of year again when the love of my life and yours truly dig deep into our reservoirs of nerve and submit our bodies to a series of tests, which the GP blithely and metaphorically calls his ‘MoT’.
Pretty much in the same way ageing, 4-wheeled bangers undergo annual, mandatory roadworthiness checks, we voluntarily elect for the probing, blood-sampling and analysis of bodily fluids, as they provide a fairly accurate indicator of how time is ravaging us and what the prognosis is for the future.
Both being 60-ish, we’re pretty sanguine about not living forever, despite the advances in medical science. Quality of life is what we value most, so hopefully we’ll rumble on for a while longer.
Naturally, each of us have developed aches and pains with age – mitigated somewhat by living in a climate as benign as Mallorca – and need propping up with a small, daily cocktail of drugs.
My wife worries about her cholesterol. The condition is likely to be genetic, since her diet is low on dairy products and a pill a day keeps it within the proscribed limits.
For my own part, I’ve been nursing an above-average PSA (prostate sensitive antigens) level since 2006, which can be an indicator of prostate cancer. I have regular check-ups, but it continues to yo-yo, which is worrisome, though my urologist doesn’t seem unduly concerned (mind you, he’s not the patient).
I hope he’s right, since prostate cancer – described as the ‘Cinderella of cancers’, until it attracted attention via the Movember moustache-growing campaign – can by symptomless unless it becomes dangerously aggressive, killing as it does over 10,000 men a year in the UK alone.
Most men contract it, usually in their declining years, but generally its progress is snail’s space and they go on to shrug off their mortal coil for other, more sinister reasons.
And, since genetic conditions are increasingly regarded by the medical fraternity as a guide to what can strike future generations, I’m fortunate, because the disease doesn’t run in my family, though that doesn’t absolve me from a positive diagnosis some day.
My wife and I were also lucky to be post-WW2 baby-boomers. It meant we were fed on home-made, additive-free food, minus preservatives, and I didn’t have my first, US-style hamburger from a fast food chain until about 1958 (it was a Wimpey, by the way).
Meanwhile, 1950s rationing limited us to good, plain, old-fashioned grub – plenty of meat and fresh veg dishes; yucky steamed fish; nutritious, home-made winter soups – which my kids now dub ‘soul food’. We also ate plenty of fruit, either straight out of its skins or cooked as baked and stewed apples, and in various tarts.
Since most families didn’t have cars way back then, we walked lots and cycled. In my early teens, regardless of the weather, I pedalled twelve miles a day to school and back on my prized, Sun Superlight drop-handle-barred racing bike and can still remember every hill.
We also played out almost daily on the local ‘rec’, inventing our own games and filling our lungs with what passed for fresh air in damp, polluted Manchester.
On reflection, it was a gilded childhood and somehow, heathwise, I believe it has stood us in good stead, since we weren’t afflicted by video games, cellphone toys and the plethora of gizmos that tantalise today’s young and keep them housebound and anti-social for hours.
But, to return to the point of this and our choice to be proactive about our health, though it’s fair to say we’re not obsessional about it, just moderately sensible.
The annual medicals have taught us to avoid too much salt, fizzy, cola-style drinks and pre-prepared convenience foods, which are rarities in Mallorca anyway (though I do miss M&S duck a la orange).
However, the doc’s ‘MoT’ can be a contentious issue – and especially among men of my vintage. Maybe they fear what they’ll hear.
But blokes, by nature, are blokish. We’ll happily chew the fat about sport, politics, business/work and dissect the attributes of a pretty girl if one chances by.
But, in our macho world all talk of medical matters is taboo and if one of us suddenly developed a third testicle, it would be a topic of hilarity – envy even – not a health concern.
In fact, too many men I know take an ostrich-eye view of their bodies and say, ‘If something happens, I’ll sort it. But I don’t want to go looking for trouble.’
That was the mindset of two friends until they were required to take medicals for insurance purposes and discovered to their horror they had aggressive prostate cancer. Fortunately, it hadn’t spread to other vital organs and, after treatment, I’m glad to say they’re still kicking.
Contrarily, two female strangers standing at a bus stop will strike up a conversation that’s invariably a prelude to comparing hysterectomies, smears and mammograms.
True, women are far more accustomed to their anatomy being medically invaded; it’s a fact of life they reluctantly accept. But, hence, they have far fewer inhibitions about discussing intimate details.
Generally, they’re also considerably more proactive in looking after their bodies than we Neanderthals.
This leads me to the conclusion – contrary to Professor Higgins song in My Fair Lady, bewailing the fairer sex and demanding ‘Why can’t women be more like men’ – men should be more like women when it comes to treating wellness seriously.
Of course, guys, if you want to continue swilling half-a-dozen litres of San Miguel nightly, chased by tequila shots, existing on a fast-food diet and walking no further than the car, by all means carry on, because I don’t want to bang on like a health nerd.
Sooner or later, though, I’ll probably see you at the cemetery. Hopefully, I’ll be the one with the bunch of flowers and an R.I.P. note.