Tuesday, April 19, 2016


... of the body's vulnerability. I had to go in to Kaiser yesterday for a PET scan on my right lung. They found a "nodule" a couple of years ago and declared it harmless. This year, another one--and this time they're not so sure. They need to see it in 3-D, or the multiple slices they can image through the MRI process. In the PET scan, they add a dose of injected material that highlights the target from the inside. Then put you through the scanner.

Lung problems, of course, are worrying for a reformed smoker like myself. I started smoking cigarettes at fourteen for kicks--and, I guess, to look tough and manly with other kids my age. My first smoke was a Gaulloise, those foul-smelling, throat-corroding cancer sticks that were universally smoked in France back in the 50s. I was on a month-long exchange with a French boy of my age. Aside from learning to smoke with Phillippe and his pals, I also learned to make pipe bombs and explode them in the garbage dump at the end of the street. Oh, and I fell in love with Nicole, the sister of another friend. An ill-fated passion, since I had to return to England just a short time later; but I remember to this day how our fingers touched as we stuffed overripe plums into a barrel their father used to make plum brandy.

Back to the lungs. The MRI department was overbooked. I had to wait an hour beyond my scheduled time before being led, surprisingly, to an enormous trailer, magnificently equipped with electronic medical gear, and was prepped, first, with a sugar test, then the injection in a vein in my right arm. Another forty-five minutes while the material seeped through my veins, an escorted visit to the men's room for a precautionary pee, and finally insertion into the donut tube that takes the pictures, and an infinitely slow journey through the electronic marvel.

All in all, long enough to have to worry about the two-hour street parking limit at the spot where I had chosen to leave my car in preference to forking out money for the Kaiser parking structure. A ticket would have been the final insult.

So the body ages, with the undesirable effects that all those who are fortunate enough to last so long will know. It's a humbling experience, to surrender this most intimate and fragile of our possessions to the probing of doctors and nurses, let alone the machines they use these days to keep them exquisitely informed about the least internal abnormality. We must be grateful. A century ago, we'd surely all have been dead long since! A century hence... who knows? If our species can survive the combination of its technological genius and its heedless rapacity for so long...

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