getting older

Some Statins, Stat!

Earlier this week, I wrote about my wife’s summer-long ordeal with her bored general practictioner, who spent his COVID Vacation searching through her medical file to find shit to tamper with. I also touched on tipping your servers and hookers. Well, not tipping your hooker, but the economics of prostitution. Although you should probably tip your hooker. And no, not “just the tip.”

Regardless, after living through Wife’s own medical-solution-in-search-or-a-problem, I probably should’ve been more on guard when my own doctor asked to set up a phone call. To be fair, although I’d like to be a writer, a chronicler of the human condition, I’ve never claimed to be all that observant.

Doc wanted to talk to me about cholesterol medicine. Doc’s been wanting to talk to me about cholesterol medicine for quite some time. A few years ago, I went in for something, probably gout, and he pulled a “Hey, I don’t give a flying fuck about what you came to me for, your cholesterol’s a smidge high, so let’s randomly prescribe you some statins.” 

Sure. Why not? He sent me over to the pharmacy and I left with the drugs that very day. On the way home, Wife told me I miiiiight want to look up some of the side effects of statins. Umm, okay. I’m sure I’m not the only person who approaches the medical profession with confused acquiescence. 

Okay, here’s what my robot overlord, Google, tells me are some statin side effects:

They might spike blood sugar. Hmm, I’ve been prediabetic for five years.

Liver damage. Hmm, I’m a borderline alcoholic.

Kidney problems. Well, at least it won’t make my gout worse.

At least I’m at Kaiser. One of the reasons I chose the Kaiser, aside from my love of old-tyme handlebar mustaches and pickelhaube helmets, is that you can see your test results online. Back when I was on a different plan, my doctor would tell me something in my blood was “a little elevated,” which could mean just about anything. 

“So it turns out there’s some extra lead in your system.” 

“Yeah, Doc, I came to you for a gunshot wound.”

But at Kaiser, I can see precisely where I am and, even better, what the standard range. When I got home from the “quick, take these drugs before you ask your wife about it” appointment, I looked more closely at my last blood test. The standard range for cholesterol is listed as anything under 239. My horrible, sky-high cholesterol that needed drugs right the fuck now was a whopping… 219. 

Except, you see, it’s not just a matter of overall cholesterol. You’ve got to look at the good cholesterol versus the bad. Your HDL, or good cholesterol has to be over 40 or else you’re unhealthy, and mine was only at a measly 52. Oh, and that LDL, it’s the bad cholesterol and we should really look for a way to get it under 159. So maybe some drugs will improve my reading of… 150.

I’m not saying I’m the picture of health. But if all of my cholesterol readings are within the range that’s deemed “normal,” it doesn’t seem to be something I should be pumping my body full of side effects for. Sorry, Kaiser Wilhelm, if you don’t want me making uninformed decisions, then maybe you need to not let me see the information.

Why are they giving me pills to fix something that ain’t broke, especially if there’s a good chance it’ll break something else? I mean, if I take these pills to drop my cholesterol from an “on the high end” 219 down to an, I don’t know, 200? While at the same time spiking my blood sugar and losing both my vision and my feet to diabetes, I wouldn’t necessarily call that a “win-win.”

So I came home with the prescription but never used it. That worked for a while. Doctor got his kickback from the pharmaceutical company and I kept my liver. Actually, the next two times I got tested, my cholesterol went down, first to 199 then to 189, despite never touching the statins. Maybe I’m so magical that just convincing myself I needed to lower my cholesterol was enough to do it. It’s some Jedi magic. 

Or else maybe my cholesterol fluctuates inside the normal range. There’s a reason it’s called a range, right?

But eventually they caught onto my duplicity. Not because my cholesterol changed, but because I never refilled the prescription for something I’m supposed to be taking every day. Or maybe they were onto me because my blood sugar didn’t spike enough. “People who take our drugs can’t be as healthy as you are.”

After a year or so, doctor sent me a nastigram that I better take my fucking medicine like a good fucking boy. I ignored him, so he referred me to the big boss. I started getting emails from some random dude, inside Kaiser, listed as “Pharm.” That might stand for pharmacist, but I assume he works for Big Pharm, which is where this entire push must be coming from. My doctor needs to get a new Porsche or something, and the gout medicine people just ain’t willing to cup his balls the way he likes on the reach-around. I mean, if there ain’t kickback going all the way up the wazoo, then why the hell are we not only prescribing cholesterol medicine to people who don’t need it, but actually following up to ensure that said individual is taking said unnecessary drugs. 

By contrast, I also have asthma (hurray, mid-forties!) but I’m really bad about using my inhaler. Not the emergency inhaler. I use that one often. But there’s an inhaler I’m supposed to use every day that will prevent the need for the emergency inhaler. Problem is that when I’m breathing fine, I forget. So that’s another prescription I’m supposed to fill every six months or so but regularly go two years between refills. And not a single email from doctor nor pharmacist nor Pfizer lobbyist. Because if you can’t breathe, meh. But if your cholesterol is normal, well then that’s a problem we need to solve! 

So there I was, foolishly accepting the call from a doctor with way too much time on his hands, knowing full well that he had some drug kingpin breathing down his neck to make sure he gets all his little cretins hooked, and wouldn’t you know it, he doesn’t want to ask me how my breathing’s going with all of the fires going on, like the snazzy new “Glass Fire,” proving that I’m a fucking Nostradamus who nobody heeds. Nope, what he really wants to talk to me about is how important it is that I get my normal cholesterol under control.

This time, however, I was prepared for the statin conversation. I asked for clarification, like why the fuck am I supposed to risk making some of my medical conditions worse in order to fix a problem I don’t have. It turns out that cholesterol medicine ain’t got shit to do with controlling cholesterol. Studies have shown that prescribing statins to people who don’t need them severely lessens the likelihood of, I don’t know, heart attacks and stroke and scurvy or something. 

Honestly! Why, the drug company who has the patent for this drug has run bazillions of tests and, wouldn’t you know it, they all came back proving that their product rivals only the flush toilet and electricity in the advancement of the human race. And the proof is that, when they prescribed it to people who didn’t need it, those people ended up STILL not needing it. It’s kind of like saying that stitches help people who’ve been stabbed by a sword, but our tests show that unstabbed people who were given stitches ALSO didn’t exhibit signs of sword punctures. Stitches greatly reduce your chances of bleeding out in a medieval dungeon.

My doctor assures me that the DHS has signed off on this whole cholesterol-medicine-for-non-cholesterol-purposes thing. And boy howdy, if COVID has taught us anything, it’s that government agencies devoted to our health always know what they’re talking about.  Like when the virus was airborne for, like, an hour before the CDC took it off their website because the president complained. A week later, it was airborne again. Hopefully you weren’t breathing in deeply for that week that the virus was noncommittal. 

And yeah, I know that the Department of Health Services ain’t the same as the Center for Disease Control, but the only reason we’re focused on the latter is because they’ve kept us hostage all year and we’re suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. Even if the DHS whims can’t keep me chained to my refrigerator for the next fortnight, my eyebrow’s still rising over them suggesting what we really need in this world is more random, never-ending prescriptions. Those bacteria ain’t gonna develop antibiotic immunity by themselves, y’all! For all I know, the Orange One has a bunch of stock in the statin company and that’s why they’re now suggested for everything from hemorrhoids to gunshot wounds.

Then again, I’m just now realizing that the DHS is the British single-payer system. Shit, is my doctor running my blood tests in metric? Maybe that’s why my numbers don’t match what he’s saying.

Or maybe he’s talking about the other DHS, the American one that likes to look at your browser history. In which case I better get me some statins, because unlike some mamby-pamby doctors and pharmacists, you DEFINITELY don’t want to ignore the suggestions of the water-boarders. 

Then again, if it’s the Department of Homeland Security, then they need to update their sales pitch.

Lower your cholesterol! Avoid heart attacks! Now with fewer anal probes at the airport!!!

Sold!

Drinks on Friday

I went out for some drinks last Friday night.

That’s it. End of story.

Oh, you want more?

At my age, that could pretty much be a post by itself. What was once so mundane as to be rote now requires a notarized writ of release, followed by a full physical and psychiatric evaluation.

But at least I get to spend the rest of the weekend patting myself on the back. Which isn’t easy to do with a goddamned hangover. Does anyone have any Advil?

It’s not like I’ve become a complete recluse. I’ll have a beer before bed sometimes. Our household made it through not one, but two bottles of Booze Nog in December. Scratch that, I just checked the fridge and we only made it through one and a half bottles. Maybe by the end of February we’ll find the promised land.

The kitchen table isn’t the only place I drink. Wife and I are pretty good at coordinating calendars to allow one of us to escape for an evening once in a great while. Just never together at the same time, as that would necessitate a second mortgage to pay for a babysitter.

Yes, thirty-year-old me, I have to plan and coordinate my drinking endeavors weeks in advance. Yes, even if it’s just happy hour. You got something to say to me? Guess what? You’re also going to have gout in the future. Enjoy your shellfish while you can, motherfucker!

I usually meet a particular friend for drinks after work once a month or so. Back when we were single, we met a few times a week. We’d have a couple pitchers of beer on a regular day, maybe add a third or a fourth on a Friday or a Monday. The first Monday of the NFL season was often brutal because they do a double header. That’s seven hours of football. Do you know how much Bud Light one must consume to stay glued to a barstool for seven hours of football?

Sure, we could’ve taken a breather. Only watched one game. Maybe jog around the block during commercial breaks. But that’s heathen quitter talk.

Occasionally, a text would emerge from one of our phones around 6:30 the next morning to the tune of, “Upon further reflection, perhaps those last two pitchers of beer weren’t strictly necessary.”

The first four pitchers weren’t mentioned.

But that was then. This is now.

Now we meet once a month, assuming we can fit it into our schedules. We both work 7:00-3:00 jobs, so we meet up at 3:30, have two beers, a firm handshake, and we’re on our merry ways.

Two beers, I said. Not two pitchers. But you wouldn’t know it, the way my body feels the next day.

To be fair, the beer I drink now tends to be of higher alcohol content than the old stuff. Since I drink less often, I might as well enjoy it. The goal is no longer to gorge myself on as much liquid as possible. The goal isn’t to merge with the barstool over the course of an evening.

So in terms of alcohol content, my per-beer average is up. But I only tell myself that when I’m standing in awe of my lack of tolerance.

I used to scoff at those BAC charts that tell you how many drinks you can have based on your weight. For instance, I’m 220ish pounds, so it tells me that if I have three beers in an hour, I’ll be impaired. At my fifth beer, I’m inebriated. That used to be a joke to me. Who is wasted after only five beers? Lightweight!

Hey, I just had to double-check those BAC numbers. Did you know that there are some BAC charts with a designation beyond “Legally Intoxicated” at .08? They list “Possible Death” starting at .30. I mean, that’s good to know, but it seems odd to put on the chart. Presumably, I’m looking at this chart to see if I can drive a car. So I’m probably in the .06-.10 range. Who the hell is checking their BAC when they’re in the .30 range? Can they even read at that point? I think the BAC people just put that in as a challenge.

One year at Camptathalon, we had a Breathalyzer. Don’t ask. We decided against making a competition of it. Sure, the primary competition most floated was a “guess your BAC” game, which shouldn’t be too dangerous. But a bunch of dudes, miles from civilization, trying to compete for the “best” result on a Breathalyzer is rife with problems.

“What’s that? A point-three is potential death? Hold my beer. (And grab me the Everclear.)”

Fortunately I don’t have to worry about possible death. Every chart I’ve seen ends at ten drinks in one hour, at which point my 220-pound ass is only blowing a .16. Possible death doesn’t show up as an option unless you’re under 100 pounds and have eight drinks in an hour. And really, if you’re a grown dude that’s less than a hundred pounds, you might need something to take the edge off.

So I met my friend for a few happy hour beers at around 3:30. I had two pints of beer (sixteen ounces, not those imperial 20-ouncers) followed by a “small” beer, which I assume to be in the 8-10 ounce range. We said our goodbyes and I was off to my next adventure around 5:30.

That next adventure was “Curling Night in America,” one of the worst ways to watch a curling match. It’s a program that NBC runs where they film some non-competitive games between the United States and some hand-selected teams that we invite over because we know we can beat them. You won’t see U.S. vs Canada or U.S. vs. Sweden. Instead, you’ll see Japan and Australia and Italy. Not places known for their curling prowess.

As if blowouts aren’t enough reason to avoid a sporting event, these things are also pre-recorded. The curling matches they’re showing now took place last August. We could totally look up the results if we wanted to. But we don’t, because they’re pointless exhibition games.

I know, who’s ever heard of NBC showing tape-delayed Olympic sports, huh? But “Curling Night in America” is even worse than, say, the Miracle on Ice or, I don’t know, every single Olympics broadcast EVER. Seriously NBC? It’s one thing when the Olympics are on the other side of the world and going on live when we’re all asleep, but the 2016 Olympics were in fucking Brazil, and you still tape-delayed most of them.

But “Curling Night in America” is even worse because it’s edited to fit into a two-hour block. So they’ll randomly skip an entire end of curling, the equivalent of an inning in baseball. So imagine you’re watching the World Series game. They go to commercial after the second out in the first inning and when they come back it’s the bottom of the third. And the score is 3-2, but they don’t bother telling you how the runs were scored. That’s “Curling Night in America.”

It gets even worse at the end of each broadcast, because you know precisely when the game is going to end. They try to build suspense, going to commercial right before the final shot of an end, a make-or-break rock that might tie up the game and force an extra, sudden-death end. Will he make it? Will she miss by an inch? Oh, so enticing.

But then you look at the clock. If it’s 8:35, they’re going to make the shot. If it’s 8:50, we’re coming back from this commercial break to see a miss and be done with it. How lame. That’s why sports are supposed to be broadcast live. If you know ahead of time that the pitcher is only going to throw one more pitch, it takes some of the joy of it. The NFL doesn’t say “Any Given Sunday.. except not this Sunday.”

But “Curling Night in America” works as a good recruiting tool for my curling club. The other people in the bar don’t know we’re exaggerating the oohs and ahhs. So once or twice a month a bunch of us head out to a local cantina and make a ruckus.

That’s where I was headed after my two-and-a-half beers last Friday night.

But first I had to stop for a coffee.

This was hardly the first time I caffeinated in between drinking sessions. On one Friday night when I was a new teacher. I went to happy hour, then hit Starbucks on the way back to school to announce the football game, then went back out to re-buzz after the game. Then it was back to coffee in the morning. I swallowed the cat to catch the bird. I swallowed the bird to catch the spider. I swallowed the spider to catch the fly. I swallowed the fly because cocaine is too fucking expensive.

That’s what that song is about, right?

Of course, back then, I wasn’t drinking the coffee to my buzz. Far from it. I might have been trying to mask it. Or I might’ve just wanted a coffee. Whereas this time, I was thinking,  “Holy crap, I’ve already has a few beers and now I’m going out to get more beers and it’s almost my bedtime. Where can I find some meth?”

Unfortunately, I had to settle for coffee. With cream.

Not milk, mind you. Full fucking cream. I could’ve suckled up to a cow and not noticed much difference. I never get cream. I’m a black coffee guy. But I wanted more calories in my stomach. I wanted more volume in my stomach. If I could’ve ordered a coffee milkshake, I would have.

The hipster batistas were giving me the “gee I wonder why you’re getting coffee” look. Then, as if I wasn’t feeling old already, they asked what I was doing this fine Friday evening. I told them where I was headed. Each one blinked back.

“You know,” I explained, “the pub over on J Street.”

The blinks continued.

How the hell have they not heard of this place? It’s been there for… well, I don’t know how long it’s been there. But I’ve been going there a good twenty years. It was the hip, cool place to hang out after work when I was a restaurant server. Back in… the last century.

Holy crap! Do you mean to tell me the skeevy, decrepit bar filled with septuagenarians that my grandpa went to in 1980 didn’t start as a skeevy, decrepit bar filled with septuagenarians? Was the wrong side of the tracks, at some point, the RIGHT side of the tracks? Hmmm…

This might explain why people keep throwing their hips out at our Learn-to-Curls.

After I power through the large half-coffee-half-cream, spilling a bit for good measure as if the nose-ring-clad, twenty-something baristas hadn’t rolled their eyes at “grandpa” quite enough already, I was on my way to what might as well have been Howard Cunningham’s Leopard Lodge.

Where I promptly ordered a full plate of fish n’ chips. Can’t be too safe.

I also ordered a beer. When I handed over my card, the bartender asked if he should keep the tab open. I told him to keep it open. Mainly out of habit, but partly because it feels so wrong to limit myself. After all, the night was still young, at least according to the clock on the wall and not my internal clock. But maybe the pre-recorded curling match will feature a surprising come from behind and I’ll buy a round for the whole bar. Perhaps being in a bar that I frequented at 28 will make me feel 28 again. Who knows, I could have five more beers and Uber home in the wee hours of the morning.

And then get the look on Wife’s face in the morning when we’re have to come back downtown to get my car, which will probably have a parking ticket by then.

Aw, who was I kidding? I knew exactly how many more beers I was going to have and I had enough cash to pay for it. Sure enough, when I bought that second beer, tummy full of deep-fried breading n’ chips, I closed out the tab.

Then the moment the curling match came back from its final commercial break and the Japanese failed to send it to an extra end, as we knew they would, I beelined it for my car to head home. It was 9:00. I was exhausted!

Then came the harrowing drive home. Hoo-wee. A fog had settled on the land. Only it wasn’t fog. It was dark. I think they call it nighttime? Glare from car headlights blinded me. And it’s hard to recite the alphabet backward, even if I’m sober.

I was practicing all the lines I would tell the cop while I dutifully put my hands at the ten and two positions, except when they were prying open my droopy eyes.

But I also did the math in my head. I ordered my first drink at 3:30. It was now 9:15. I had consumed four-and-a-half beers.

Let’s give me the benefit of the doubt. The beers at the first place were strong, so maybe it’s the equivalent of three of the 4.5% beers mentioned on the BAC chart. And I think the English pub was pouring imperial pints. So maybe those two beers were closer to three.

Still, that’s six beers over a course of six hours. One beer per hour. Okay, the Fuller’s ESB is a whopping 5.5%, so let me be manly and up that number all the way to Shit, I’m going to be bold and round up to seven. Seven full beers!

Let’s put aside the fact that I used to do seven beers in an hour. Not that I’m proud of seven beers in an hour, but hell, even the 100-pound dude would still be marginally alive at that point. Seven beers in an hour, according to the chart, would put me at a .11. Back in the 1970s, that would’ve been barely above legally drunk.

But this time, I didn’t have those seven beers in an hour. I had them in six. The BAC chart says I burn off .015 BAC, or one drink, per hour. So even if I had drank them all in one hour, I would’ve burned off .09 of that .11. Notwithstanding the fish n’ chips, coffee, and cream.

That .02 is also the number the chart gives me for drinking one beer in an hour. Which makes sense, since I’ve effectively had one per hour, with only a slight addendum. Some charts are nice enough to say that, at .02, driving ability might be impaired. Of course, those ones put everything on the chart as “possibly impaired.” They’re trying to make a point.

The more honest ones don’t list the possibly impaired until .04. Because the first thing the cop’s going to do is smell your breath. And the .02 probably ain’t gonna show up.

If a cop had pulled me over that fine evening, I would’ve told him to take me into the drunk tank and he would’ve thought I was just trying to play the “fugue state” game from Breaking Bad.

“Sorry, sir. All you’ve had tonight is fish n’ chips.”

Like I’m Beavis and Butthead in the episode where they get non-alcoholic beer.

“You’re not drunk. You’re just a dumbass.”

I couldn’t agree more, Ozzifer.