Offensive Medicine

The new year is dawning brightly—usually too brightly, depending on how late you stayed up on New Year’s Eve—and it is filled with hope and the unlimited possibility of a fresh start. For you, maybe. Me, I’m taking it one day at a time since I’ve got back cancer or something. It’s called basal cell carcinoma (sounds like the new dance sensation), and it’s spreading through my body as I write these words, possibly for the last time.

(Editor’s Note: Good lord, it’s only a PIMPLE! A dot! A drive-by procedure at the dermatologist. And don’t you dare take the whole day off!)

As I was saying, it’s a terrible condition. It starts as a tiny spot that, if left unattended, becomes a slightly larger tiny spot and eventually itches. In a very grave voice, my doctor told me I have only two choices:

• Surgery.

• Scratching.

I have tried the latter, but it’s hard to reach, even using a family member’s toothbrush. If I choose surgery, recovery time is unknown, and my colleagues at work might not see me for days, if not weeks, depending on whether I can change my Netflix account to 12 movies at a time. (Note to self: When caring friends bring over meals, hide the DVDs under devotional materials.)

My nursing-student daughter is strongly in favor of the surgical option (it was her toothbrush, after all), and says she looks forward to changing the bandage each day. Although, since she’s currently studying deep tissue trauma, she’d prefer that I play catch with a chain saw. She’d like the extra credit.

Naturally, I need to get the procedure approved by my HMO, and I’ll have to appear before an Obama Death Panel and state my case. But I don’t mind the government getting between me and my doctor, because my doctor is really boring. (Having to peek around somebody else in the room might break the monotony.) It’s all helpfully outlined in Sarah Palin’s new book, I Can’t Believe They Paid A Million Bucks for This. (Not to be outdone, President Obama just announced his next book, The Audacity of Gradual Change.)

Minor Surgery is just the latest indignity that comes with age. Having just turned 60, my memory is fading, and I fear that one day I’ll recall where I put the car keys, but not where I put the car. Not to mention my other problems. Health professionals call muscle aches, tiredness, and a dry cough symptoms of the flu. I call it waking up.

In addition, at my advanced age I am required by federal statute to watch 60 Minutes, a show that exposes the worst problems in our society and, to prove the point, includes advertisements for various male disorders. These are usually portrayed by groups of men biking happily until they have to stop and use a public restroom. They later pair up with their spouses and sit in bathtubs on a scenic hilltop. This is apparently covered by their HMOs.

Hilltop bathtubs notwithstanding—and you should never stand in a hilltop bathtub, lest you frighten livestock grazing nearby—these days I am thinking more about end-of-life issues, such as how many times my loved ones should poke me with a stick to make sure that when I’m gone, I’m really gone. (And don’t pull the plug. Just wiggle it a little to make sure there’s not a short.)

I considered donating my body to science, but I think I’ll give it to literature instead. Drop me off at a college English department and prop me up in the corner. I’ll be a cautionary tale that encourages young people to stay in school. For their whole lives. Because studying hard is a lot more fun than working hard.

Ed Spivey Jr. is art director of Sojourners. His new book, A Hamster is Missing in Washington, D.C., is available at

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