Having been summoned to a physician visit by his HMO, Paul Lerner had spent the usual half hour in the waiting room, then had been put into the usual sterile cubicle, where he tried to read while as usual wondering if he’d been forgotten. The doctor, when he finally arrived with Paul’s file, said, “We haven’t seen you in almost a year.” His tone was accusing.
“I’ve been feeling pretty good,” Paul replied. Actually, thought Paul, he hadn’t been feeling too bad. There’d been the two surgeries in his seventies, the enlarged prostate and the hernia, and his creaking knees had made him stop playing tennis, but overall he felt he was okay. It might even be because he’d stopped playing tennis and the aches and pains of that sport had faded away that he felt better than he had in a long time.
“You’ll be 80 on your next birthday,” said the doctor. “We should really be seeing you every six months.” He made a note in the file. After this, he poked and prodded Paul for a while, then said, “Well, everything seems to be in order.” He sounded a little disappointed. “I’d like to take some blood tests.” He handed Paul a lab form. “And I’ll see you in six months.”
Paul took the lab slip, waited another half hour, then a medical tech poked a needle in his arm and took his blood. After that, he drove back home.
* * *
Paul and his wife Sally lived in a retirement community in Northern California. That evening, they went to dinner at the community’s restaurant with another couple, Bill and Carol Simpson, whom they’d known since moving there 12 years ago. Bill was a few years older than Paul, about 83. He was a tall man who’d once been very fit, but he’d been having health problems lately. Once he’d been Paul’s doubles partner in tennis and he’d been a formidable presence at the net. Then, after they’d stopped playing tennis, he’d played pool with Paul for a long time. Now his legs bothered him so much he’d stopped doing even that.
After dinner, Carol told Bill to sit down on a bench outside while she got their car. As they walked through the parking lot, she told Sally and Paul that Bill was finding it harder and harder to walk. “I don’t think he’ll ever play pool with you again,” she told Paul.
“What about using a walker?” asked Sally.
“I’ve mentioned it. He hates the idea, but he may have to start doing it.”
To Paul, the idea of his old tennis partner going around with a walker seemed unthinkable. But, as Carol said, he might have no other choice. They reached their cars and said their good-byes. As they drove home, Sally told Paul it was a shame about Bill. Paul said nothing, but he agreed..
* * *
That night, Sally was watching one of her TV shows, one featuring a pregnant teenager, while Paul sat in his lazy-boy chair in their bedroom, reading a not very good thriller. His big cat, Shandyman, sprawled across Paul’s chest. Paul absently stroked him while he read. After a short while, Paul’s attention began to wander. He stretched out in his chair. As he’d told his doctor, he had been feeling pretty good. Then the thought came to him unbidden that this might be as good as he was ever going to feel. Pretty soon he’d be 80. It was inevitable that at some point something would happen to him. Maybe those blood tests he’d taken that morning would show something wrong. Even if nothing drastic happened to his health, sooner or later he’d go into a decline. In a few years, he might be like Bill, not even able to play pool any more and facing having to use a walker. He suddenly felt chilled, as if a cold wind had blown over him. He began to stroke Shandyman, but the cat leaped from his lap and left the room. Paul knew he’d have a hard time going to sleep that night.