Dave Barry

Needling the birthday boy

(This classic Dave Barry column was originally published Aug. 31, 1997.)

I turned 50, which is really not so old. A lot of very famous people accomplished great things after 50. For example, it was during the post-50 phase of his life that the brilliant physicist Albert Einstein produced the vast majority of his drool.

But still, when you're 50, you're definitely ''getting up there,'' so I decided I had better go in for my annual physical examination, which is something I do approximately every seven to nine years. I keep my physicals spaced out because my doctor, Curt, who is ordinarily a terrific guy, has a tendency to put on a scary rubber glove and make sudden lunges at my personal region.

Also Curt has some ladies who work with him -- and again, these are charming people -- who belong to some kind of Druid-style cult that has very strict beliefs under which they are not allowed to let you leave the office with any of your blood. They get you in a chair and distract you with charming conversation while they subtly take your arm and insert a needle attached to a long tube that goes outside to a 50,000-gallon tanker truck with a big sign that says ''BLOOD.'' When they're done draining you, they don't even have to open the door to let you out; they just slide you under it.

Somehow I got through my physical OK. But then, about a week later, Curt was working late one night at his office -- perhaps going through the Official Catalog Of Supplies For Doctor's Offices, which lists needles in sizes ranging all the way from Extra Large to Harpoon, as well as an extensive selection of pre-1992 magazines with the last page of every article torn out -- and he happened to glance up at his framed copy of the Hippocratic oath. This is an oath that is named after an ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, who is considered the Father of Medicine because he invented the following phrases, without which modern medical care would be impossible:

``Do you have insurance?''

``We're going to have to run some tests.''

``You may experience some discomfort.''

``We're going to have to run some more tests.''

``The tests were inconclusive.''

Anyway, Curt was looking at the Hippocratic oath, which all doctors are required to take, and he noticed the sentence that says:

``And I swear by my Lexus that if a person comes into my office for any reason, whether it be for a physical examination or simply to deliver the mail, I will find something medically wrong with that person.''

And so Curt -- realizing that if he let me get out of my physical scot-free, burly agents of the American Medical Association Ethics Unit would come and yank his stethoscope right out of his ears -- called me and told me that the cholesterol level in my blood was a little high. I tried to argue that this was no longer my problem, since all my blood was in the possession of the Druid ladies, but Curt insisted that I had to change my dietary habits.

To help me do this, Curt sent me some informative medical pamphlets that explain to the layperson, via cartoons, what cholesterol is. Technically, it is a little blob-shaped guy with buggy eyes and a big nose who goes running through your blood vessel, which is a tube going to your heart, which can be seen smiling in the background. Sometimes the blob guy gets stuck, causing him to get a grumpy expression and have a balloon come out of his mouth saying, ''I'M STUCK.'' If too many cholesterols get stuck, your blood vessel looks like a New York subway train at rush hour, and your heart gets a sad face, and surgeons have to go in there with a medical device originally developed by Roto-Rooter.

To prevent this from happening, you need to be very careful about your diet, as follows:

Food groups you cannot eat: Meat, milk, cheese, butter, desserts, processed foods, fried foods, foods with skins, restaurant foods, foods your mom made, foods from packages, foods shown in commercials, foods containing flavor, foods being carried around on trays at wedding receptions, appetizers, snacks, munchies, breakfast, lunch, dinner, takeout, drive-through, pina coladas, and any food with a phrase such as ''GOOD LUCK HERB!'' written on it in frosting.

Food groups you can eat: Water (unsweetened), low-fat celery, wood chips.

This diet has been difficult for me to follow. The worst part has been giving up cheese. I love cheese. I'm the kind of person who, while merely rummaging through the refrigerator to see what else is available, can easily gnaw his way through a hunk of cheddar the size of the late Sonny Liston. But I've been pretty good so far, and I'm hoping that my blood cholesterol will be a lot lower, if I ever develop blood again. Curt wants me to come back in and have it checked. He'll never take me alive.

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