My mother says it’s a sure sign of ageing when you spend a lot of time at the doctors or hospitals. “It’s usually the beginning of the end,” she tells all her friends. Of course, this kind of gloomy announcement invariably follows news that someone has died unexpectedly.
Like the time one of my great aunts, who’d been playing mahjong for 12 hours straight without getting up, bent over to pick up a tile that had fallen to the floor. The blood rushed straight to her head and she died instantly of a massive stroke.
For years after, the unnatural manner of Great Aunt Rhonda’s death was trotted out as a salutary lesson every time the conversation turned from boasting about the accomplishments of one’s children to one’s medical appointments.
“Just like that. Kweck!” an aunt would said, bending her right index finger into a crook.
“That’s why every year I book myself in for a full medical check-up!” Great Aunt Rhonda’s elder sister, Great Aunt Teresa, would pipe up. To which everyone at the mahjong table would sing out, “Aiyah, Terry, you put us all to shame!”
And later, behind her back, those same aunts would say to each other that the only reason Great Aunt Teresa was still alive and kicking at 94 was because she was determined to outlive her daughter-in-law just so the dreadful woman wouldn’t inherit her jewels.
When my great aunt eventually died at 98 — after lunch, she lay down for a nap, and never woke up again — it surprised no one that when her safety deposit box was opened by the lawyers, it was empty. Apparently, she’d sold everything and spent the money on that four-month cruise around the world the year before. Her daughter-in-law had to be sedated.
“What a great life Terry had,” everyone agreed at the funeral even as they were busy making phone calls to their respective cardiologists and oncologists for a full body work-up that week. As my mother observed, you can always tell when someone in the family has died by the subsequent stampede to the doctors’ waiting rooms. Nothing makes you realise how fragile your grip on life is until someone you know lets go of theirs.
And recently, came news that one of Amanda’s classmates had died suddenly after a routine gallstone operation. It was so unexpected.
“We were meant to have lunch next week!” Amanda told Saffy in the taxi as it zoomed towards Mount Elizabeth Novena. As soon as the news hit social media, she immediately booked a full medical exam. “Something happened to her heart!”
Saffy’s bosom inflated and deflated with a sigh. “That’s so scary. And she was our age, too!”
“Exactly! And she had everything going for her. She’d just had a promotion. She was engaged finally. Then she goes into the hospital and never comes out again!”
“And here we are rushing towards one,” Saffy observed.
“Well, when was the last time we had a medical check-up?” Amanda asked. “Since never! We could all be ticking time-bombs right now!”
“Well, as long as I don’t die before the Il Divo concert, I’ll be okay,” Saffy said, demonstrating, not for the first time, her shaky grasp on priorities and life goals.
The whole check up took a few hours, the girls being shuttled from one room to the other. “They did everything,” Saffy later reported to Sharyn. “Blood-test, heart, blood pressure, kidney scan, chest X-rays. The doctor even asked me if I wanted to do a prostate test and I said, I don’t think so. I told her that I don’t even let my boyfriend touch me there, so what made her think I was going to let her anywhere near it?”
“Aiyoh,” Sharyn sighed.
Saffy’s bosom inflated. “I know right!”
But apparently, what the girls couldn’t get over was that they had to produce a stool sample. Amanda says it’s not so much that they had to provide one on the spot, but it was the idea that some lab person somewhere in the hospital would have to open the container and examine the contents.
“And they’d have to do it all day!” Amanda exclaimed. “I mean, that’s his job! Open one container of poop after the other and then look at it through a microscope. All day!”
Saffy wonders if when that lab person was growing up and his relatives asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up, whether he could ever imagine that looking at other people’s poop all day long would be in his future.
“I think I would just die!” Saffy predicted.