Renata never nags me, thankfully, but she can be fairly persistent with her suggestions, especially when it comes to my well-being. So last week I went to my doctor about a cough which I’ve had for nearly two months. While I took heavy breaths he listened to my lungs, left and right, front and back, then had me blow repeatedly into a little gizmo, typing the resulting numbers into a computer model. He looked at the results on his screen, hummed and hawed, asked twice whether I smoked, and then told me what I had expected to hear all along: “Well, I don’t think there’s anything we can do, really; why don’t you come back in a month if it’s still a problem.”
The Dutch medical service is great. And I mean that. This is the second time I’ve been to this doctor, who happens to be the doctor for the national field hockey team, and both times I telephoned at around 9:00 a.m. and got an appointment before the end of the same day. But Renata and I have often joked that the first visit to a Dutch doctor is to get the placebo; it’s only on the second visit that one gets any real action. “Het gaat van zelf weg” is a phrase every new arrival in the country should be tested on for comprehension – they’re going to hear it often! (“It’ll go away by itself.”)
Anyway, as he watched me buttoning my shirt he finally did make a suggestion: “You might like to try getting more cardio-vascular exercise; more heavy lung activity could be useful.” I’m sure the thought occurred to him then because he had caught sight of my middle-age spread poking out between the shirt halves.
I’m 47. Brad Pitt is about my age; he turns 46 this December. George Clooney too; in fact, George is older than me by 364 days. We miss sharing a birthday by one day. But neither Brad, nor George, seem to have the same challenges I do with weight and form. Sure, I know the focus of much of their waking hours is to maintain their slim physiques, and they have whole battalions of personal trainers, doctors, dieticians, and stylists to help them out. But it just doesn’t seem fair.
There’s a photo of me in one of my albums, standing with my brother Paul and a friend, Andy Kostelak, at pool-side in Corvallis, Oregon in the summer of 1981. We rented the apartment only for the summer, purely on the basis of it having a swimming pool, and we spent the greater part of each day swimming or lounging around in the sun. The photo is remarkable. I’m very fit. All of about 75 kilos, trim, tan, with good biceps and a nice six-pack of muscles showing in my abdomen.
I’ve studied that photo long and hard. I don’t know what George Clooney was doing on that day, off in Kentucky probably, in the summer when he was 20 and I was 19. But I’m quite sure the photo captures the moment when George’s life and my own took significantly divergent paths. My, haven’t the years gone quickly.
My cough is almost gone. A couple of days after my doctor’s appointment Renata happened to forget to take her lunch to work, so I did the 4+ kilometer walk to take it to her – in less than 50 minutes. That single effort, plus time, seems to have done the trick. It’s going away by itself.
If only the stomach would.