“Mr. Azimi? Follow me, the doctor will see you now.”
I look up from the drab linoleum floor, eager beyond words to leave this little slice of purgatory they call the waiting room and follow the nurse beyond the swinging doors. My booty aches from the glorified slab of rock I’ve been sitting on for the past hour and a half, and I’m walking behind the nurse like Bambi in stilettos because one of my legs has fallen asleep. If I ever meet God face-to-face, I’m going to ask him/her/it why doctors’ offices always seem to have the most uncomfortable chairs. Really? You make this much money and you can’t spring for something with padding? And why do they insist patients show up on time to appointments only to make them wait for hours? Also, why are the walls in hospitals and clinics painted such drab colors, why can’t they be colored a vibrant yellow or orange, and speaking of orange, why do hospital cafeterias always seem to serve the runniest orange juice? I digress. Come face-to-face with your own mortality, and your mind will grab any tangent it can and run with it. Sprint with it.
The nurse is all business as she leads me into an examination room and proceeds to record my vitals. Something softens in her eyes as she unceremoniously shoves a thermometer into my mouth. The tender smile she gives me hints that she senses how uncomfortable and nervous I am, but she’s out the door before I can even voice the emotion, leaving me wishing that I had one of those cutesy teddy bears dotting her scrubs to hug. The truth is, I’m not nervous and I’m not uncomfortable. I am absolutely terrified out of my wits. I’ve never been afraid to visit the doctor before, but that was back when I thought I had nothing to fear from my body. I’m here to receive the results of my physical exam, and I’m one hundred percent positive that this is one test I’m not going to get an A+ on.
It’s been seven years since I last had a physical, which is bad enough in itself. But I spent those seven years behind the lit end of a cigarette, probably smoking enough of them to burn my own personal hole in the ozone layer. I rarely visited the doctor during that time because I was a coward. I couldn’t stand to see the looks of judgment and disdain I thought I’d inevitably receive from the doctors and nurses once they found out exactly just how many cigarettes I smoked per day; it had happened before, and I couldn’t handle the shame I felt. So I just never went, or I went and I lied (which made me feel twice as ashamed), and I never ever asked them to do a physical exam on me. You can cure me of my strep throat and send me on my way, fine, but let me and my insides keep our blissful ignorance.
Before, I could make like an ostrich and bury my head in a cloud of smoke, refusing to ever know the truth about my own body. “So what if I can’t breathe after walking up the stairs? That’s not the beginning stages of emphysema, I’m just out of shape. And that hacking cough I’ve had for three months? That’s NOT lung cancer. It isn’t.” I could pretend smoking didn’t have actual physical consequences, which meant I didn’t have to quit. Now, it’s as if a blindfold has been ripped from my eyes. I can’t pretend I’m invincible and I can’t go on staying willfully uninformed, regardless of the shame and anxiety I might be feeling. After all, these crippling fears I have about my body betraying me to sickness, they’re well deserved. I betrayed it first, didn’t I?
I’m snapped out of my troubled reverie by a knock on the exam room door. The doctor, a portly, affable middle-aged guy who looks like he’d make a good favorite uncle, walks in and sits down, peering at the report in his hands.
“Okay, Mr. Azimi. Seems like everything has come back normal. Nothing to worry about. If you’ll sign here, you can be on your way.”
Nothing to worry about? Did I hear that right? “Seriously? I’m good?”
He smiles as he places a ballpoint in my hand. “You’re good. Oxygen, lipid and glucose levels are normal, blood pressure and cholesterol fall within acceptable ranges. We’ll check again next year.”
He shakes my hand and wishes me a good day, off to do the things that doctors do when they’re not with patients. Five minutes later, I’m still sitting there staring at the report, relief and amazement etched across my features.
I know this physical doesn’t mean that everything is peachy keen with my body. It just means that it is for now because they haven’t found anything to report. I know I’m not out of the woods yet, that the ill effects of my addiction will be with me for years to come and that I’ll have to pay close attention to my health until I’m no longer at risk for the the long-term and chronic diseases smokers are known to succumb to. It comes with the territory of being an ex-smoker, and I’ve made my peace with that. That’s tomorrow’s problem, though. Today, I’m going to celebrate being healthy, and I’m going to do whatever I can to keep myself that way.