“There’s a shadow on your lung,” the doctor told me. I was sitting in a hotel room in Lisbon during the Web Summit last month, with hardly a care in the world when I got the unexpected call.
I took the news rather calmly and listened while she said I needed to have a CT scan. Once I put the phone down I rang Trish and told her, which wasn’t the smartest thing to do in the circumstances. After all, nothing had been confirmed and what was the point in alarming her unnecessarily? And yet that’s exactly what I did.
A few months back I hadn’t been feeling well. A head cold left me coughing alarmingly for weeks afterwards, and it was only with extreme reluctance that I finally went to the doctor. Then I also told her of issues I was having with my right arm, which is occasionally painful. I thought it might have had something to do with a bad fall I had back in January when I fell heavily on ice, badly bruising my arm which had swollen and looked hideous.
She sent me for x-rays, which I had just before I left for Lisbon, and then I got that call. For a couple of days I wondered if the unthinkable had happened. As a cigar smoker the thought flashed through my mind that, God forbid, I might have lung cancer, because that’s the first thing that comes into your head when you hear of a shadow on your lung.
Seriously, the more I thought about it the more concerned I became, although I kept my fears to myself. You start to think that maybe your number is up, that all those horrible health disasters that have befallen so many of your family and friends might be about to visit you.
As it happens I’m in the clear. The CT scan showed nothing more than a small build up of fat, nothing to be concerned about. And yet, it got me thinking about my own mortality. I’m 63 now, overweight, and a couch potato. I don’t drink, but love cigars. I tried several times to give them up, but they are my only indulgence.
My father suffered a heart attack at 59 and underwent a quadruple bypass. He survived until he was 79. One of his sisters died at 67 from cancer (she was a non-drinker and non-smoker), while another sister succumbed at 40 following a brain haemorrhage. Dad’s only brother died of a heart attack, also aged 40, so there are warning signs on his side of the family. Fortunately, there’s longevity on my mother’s side – she’s 87 and still smokes!
Considering my own accident as a child I suppose I feel lucky to have made it this far without serious ailments. I never had my tonsils or appendix removed, although I had a spell of bronchitis about 10 years ago, and endured gallstones a few years back. Other than that I’m pretty healthy.
The randomness of fatal illness is remarkable. I met an ex-colleague once outside a hospital. I enquired why he was there, thinking he was visiting someone, only to be told he had picked up a virus and they were trying to get to the bottom of it. He looked amazingly healthy to me, and yet he died a couple of months later from that virus.
I have lost friends and colleagues to road accidents, alcoholism, drowning, heart attacks, falls and cancer. And then there is suicide: the toll there is shocking. Some have been young, others older.
Then there are those who have been unlucky, afflicted by strokes or illness that forced them to retired early, or were left unable to communicate.
I’m glad to say I’m healthy enough, with just the usual aches and pains of my senior years. I’m still able to refuse a seat when offered on a bus because I can still stand! My eyesight isn’t wonderful, mind. I wear bifocals which mean I can enjoy my favourite pastime – reading.
I guess I’m lucky and I hope I stay that way for the foreseeable future. Long may my good health last.
Just after I wrote the above two days ago poor Trish fell on the stairs and tore ligaments in her leg, so now she’s on crutches and I’m playing doctor and carer. I won’t be sorry to see the back of 2016.