I experienced a medical condition during the winter of 2010, a certain itch brought on by a surfeit of the body's natural yeast. It was a condition I recognised as having affected at least two human females of my formerly close acquaintance, but no-one ever told me that a male might also suffer with the same embarrassing condition. I went to see the doctor, specifically asking to see a male doctor just as I would were I a character with a sensitive problem in a seventies situation comedy. He explained that it was common - much to my astonishment - probably resulting from either too much sugar in my system, or not enough exercise of a sort which would ordinarily convert that sugar into the energy by which I might open up a packet of crisps or wobble along to the chippy in Earlsdon High Street. He said that my condition was probably nothing, but recommended that I eat less shite, get more exercise, and have a blood test.
I wasn't aware of my diet being particularly poor, and ignored the associated segments of advice on the grounds of my having reached the age of forty-five without ever having eaten either a deep fried Mars Bar or anything purchased from Taco Bell; although I realised that he probably had a point about the exercise. When employed full-time by Royal Mail I'd never really had to think about exercise as an activity in its own right because the job was physically very demanding. Since leaving Royal Mail I had taken agency work with Parcel Force, but the work was intermittent - three days a week, sometimes two, and sometimes nothing at all. When there was no work to be had I spent my time engaged in selling off many years of accumulated crap on eBay, but would usually try to get in some cycling each morning for the sake of exercise and getting out of the house. Ordinarily I would follow a fifteen mile circuit of rural back roads through Kenilworth, the villages of Leek Wootton and Stoneleigh, and then back into Coventry; but this was winter.
I'd spent twenty years trudging around in the freezing cold and pouring rain of English winter, fingers numb to the bone, and with the midday sun barely risen above the rooftops of the houses on the other side of the street for most of November through to January. Just the thought of outside was bad enough, and with no wage-related incentive to propel me forward each morning, I had fallen to the habit of putting off the daily bike ride for later in the week when it might hopefully be a bit less miserable out there. Following the initial visit to the doctor, I coaxed myself back onto two wheels a couple of times, but it was hard to find the motivation.
I'd had a blood test and was called back to the medical centre now that the results had come though. This time I saw a female doctor but I didn't let it bother me seeing as this visit was not directly concerned with the previously mentioned sensitive problem and it therefore didn't seem likely that I would be required to slap it out on the table. She told me that I was overweight for my height and age, and that my blood pressure was through the roof, as was my cholesterol, and I would probably be dead before the end of the week. Okay, she didn't actually say that I would probably be dead before the end of the week, but given the severity of her report I expect she was thinking it.
'What can I do?' I asked, terrified.
She muttered something about reducing my daily quota of visits to McDonalds, something about exercise, and then wrote out a prescription for a course of simvastatins.
This seemed more shocking than any implied coronary resulting from my chip-scoffing ways. 'Is that really necessary?' I asked.
She seemed to think it was.
'Look,' I said. 'I've been sat on my arse eating crisps for most of the last six weeks, or may as well have been. How about if I get back to my daily routine of fifteen miles? I mean, that should make a difference, shouldn't it?'
'I'm more worried about getting those triglycerides down right now,' she said, whatever the hell that meant. Her face suggested this was a life or death situation.
I argued some more, then relented and picked up a box of the prescribed tablets from the chemist in Earlsdon High Street.
I started taking them, having read about the possible side effects on the side of the packet. As the warning predicted I was unable to sleep and began to feel somewhat depressed. By the third day I had been awake for seventy-two hours, and awake meaning wide awake, and I felt like killing myself. My existence had turned cold and grey and joyless. I hadn't seen the sun in weeks. There was nothing to look forward to. There was no good in the world. My life was pointless and a complete waste of time. I had never felt so profoundly bereft of hope as on that third day. I spoke to the woman at the chemists and she told me that it generally takes a couple of weeks before you get used to simvastatins. The urge to commit suicide would pass.
Fuck that, I said to myself, and stopped taking the things.
I returned to the medical centre. My doctor was seriously pissed off. 'You should have spoken to me. You don't just decide to withdraw from a prescribed course of medicine as you've done. You can't just stop like that. You're very lucky that nothing terrible happened.'
'Well it was either stop,' I explained, 'or hope I could make it another two weeks without slashing my wrists. I'm sure simvastatins are wonderful once they start working properly, but unless I'm actually at death's door, I'd really just like to see how I get on with a bit more regular exercise.'
She wasn't happy, which was too bad. I myself hadn't been particularly delighted by our initial encounter in which she had started on my prescription before I'd even finished speaking. It had felt somewhat as though she'd been considering what course of drugs would be best for me before I'd even walked through the door.
Anyway, as promised I'd been getting out on the bike every day, and accordingly when she took my blood pressure it was normal. Nevertheless she didn't seem convinced, but I refused to take any more drugs when the side effects seemed far worse than whatever good the stuff might be doing.
Six months later I visited a doctor in Knightsbridge for a medical assessment in accordance with the conditions of my applying for the K1 visa by which I would emigrate to the United States. My blood pressure was fine. My cholesterol was fine. I was in perfect health, despite the doom which had been foretold back in Coventry just before Christmas.
Five years later I am subject to another medical examination, this time at my wife's place of work conducted in accordance with the wishes of whoever it is that supplies our medical insurance. I take off my shoes and stand on the scales. I am fourteen stone, which is the heaviest I remember ever having been. A nurse takes blood from my fingertip, and then I sit and await the results. After about five minutes another nurse takes me to a different room. I sit in front of a laptop, and a young woman appears on the screen. She wears a headset and has the results of my blood test in front of her. I am mystified as to why this part of the consultation can't be done right here with another human present just like in the good old days.
The woman speaks. Her voice sounds autotuned, and the words suggest a script with the customary quota of phrases deemed conducive to customer satisfaction by some focus group. She smiles far too much and talks about the two of us like we're a partnership, how we might consider refraining from emptying an entire shaker of salt over our platter every time we sit down to our daily triple-cheese lardburger.
My cholesterol is high.
My blood pressure is high.
What a fat bastard I am, and so on and so forth.
I might like to consider engaging in daily exercise, which I suppose means that the fifteen miles I've been cycling more or less every day, five days a week for the last five or six years isn't actually exercise. I should also cut down on processed food, and I have trouble working out what she even means by this given that I haven't eaten a Dairylea cheese triangle since I lived in England. I need to stop eating all those naughty but nice things which I'm not actually eating anyway, unless you count chicken fried steak at Jim's diner once every couple of months.
Screw you, Lady, I think resentfully whilst smiling and thanking her for her competitively priced time. I'm already looking forward to the online customer satisfaction survey.
It's true that I'm fourteen stone, which is the heaviest I've been; but then I'm fifty and I no longer smoke. I'm no stranger to carbohydrates, it's true; but at the same time I exercise regularly and it's not like I'm chugging Big Macs all day long, or at all for that matter. This annoys me somewhat, although I suppose my own personal call centre healthcare professional failing to suggest a course of simvastatins must count for something. I suppose I could cut down on mashed potato and pasta, but I'm reminded of my mother being advised by her doctor to avoid cheese.
'Then what would be the point in being alive?' she asked.
I could cut down on mashed potato and pasta, but I'm not going to because that's why I cycle fifteen miles a day.
As a concession I've now upped my daily ride to twenty miles, mainly because it's weird being fourteen stone and I have trousers and shirts I would like to wear again before I die; but this is as much as I'm doing because if a daily twenty mile bike ride isn't enough, then maybe I'm simply destined to be fat and there's nothing I can do about it, short of switching to a diet of food I don't want to eat.
Somehow it transpires that fifteen miles a day wasn't exercise, and yet twenty is, because I've already lost a couple of pounds
I suppose that's a good thing.