Matthew Keenan

Breaking news: I’m old, published in KC Star, October 4, 2014

by on Nov.27, 2014, under Kansas City Star columns

Whoever said age is a state of mind wasn’t thinking clearly.

At least that’s what I decided the year I turned 40 and showed up for my annual physical. My internist explained that this was the age when clinical guidelines require him to add new exams to the regimen. I quickly learned two things about the prostate: It’s really, really small and hides when you need to find it. And while the good doctor is looking, conversation topics include weather patterns over the Pacific.

So last month when I had surgery at Shawnee Mission Medical Center, it happened again.

I hurt my knee running and turns out the diagnosis was a meniscus tear, which set into motion a visit to the hospital for the obligatory ‘pre-operative evaluation.’

On an otherwise perfect Monday morning, I found myself mingling with a collection of men and women who sported canes with four prongs like they sell on Fox News during ‘supper hour.’ These prospective patients are members of the greatest generation and they tend to wear mesh baseball hats, with emblems of that say Semper Fi. You survey each one, think about how they made our country stronger, but then your focus is on their aging bodies. My discerning eyes would come to a quick diagnosis — cardiac issues, respiratory, hip, knees.

After waiting 20 minutes I called Lori. “This place is like John Knox Village. I feel pretty young here.”

The magazines had an AARP feel to them.

My name was called and I jumped out of the chair and walked briskly to the nurse. “Good morning!” This was my way of saying, “I’m young. I don’t belong here.”

And shortly thereafter it begins. The interrogation.

“Hi, I just have some questions to go over with you,” she says with a big smile.

“Sure. No problem,” I replied.

“Which leg is it?” I paused and thought for a moment. “The right. Yes. The right.”

She continued: What happened? What’s your pain tolerance? Do you have a history of heart disease, diabetes? What drugs do you take? Do you have allergies? Do you snore when you sleep? Do you consume alcoholic beverages? Do you smoke? The list continued.

“Have you had surgery before?”

“Yes,” I said. I paused to think for a moment and tried to review 55 years in 10 seconds. “I broke my leg in junior high and had some screws placed in there.” She entered a couple keystrokes and moved on.

“We need to get an EKG, so please take off your shirt.” I obliged, and she was inspecting my chest, looking for entry points for probes that would have good connectivity. This was like trying to find a landing strip in the Amazon. Spoiler alert — don’t look for me on a fireman’s calendar. My abs have the firmness of a water bed. The lady knew this drill. She has seen worse. I hope.

Everything was normal. Surgery was full speed ahead.

I got home. Lori was waiting for me. “How did it go?” she asked. “Tell me about it.”

“They asked how many surgeries I’ve had.” I recited the list.

“What about your tonsils? Did you mention that? Did you mention your appendectomy?”

I retreated to the couch, sat down and felt sheepish that I missed some of the most obvious questions on my quiz. The one with the most drama — an appendix attack that hit me one morning five years ago and three hours later I was going into surgery. And my first surgery at age 7. Yet Lori rattled both of them off, probably also remembering the names of my surgeon, nurses and anesthesiologist.

“How could I get forget all my surgeries?” I muttered to myself.

Right then my knee started to throb.

My brain entertained a new thought. I am old.

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