I prefer to work with words, but I’ve always known my numbers: how to count to ten, how many teeth I’d lost, how much I’d earn at twenty cents an hour, how many years until I could drive; my age, height, weight, and grade point average; mortgage loan rates, check book balances, mileage per gallon, years to retirement.
But it seems knowing numbers is a never-ending chore, and I have to add more if I want my Janet-strives-to-be-healthy award. Health experts — no longer content with nagging me about my weight, water consumption, physical activity, and food choices — now insist I need to know and track my vital numbers.
Evidently, aging brings with it an onslaught of numbers useful for detecting significant changes in my weary body: blood pressure, cholesterol levels, blood glucose, triglycerides, body mass index and on and on and on until my head spins and my important numbers escalate into the danger zone.
When younger, I extended my arm for the blood pressure cuff as routinely and thoughtlessly as I swatted mosquitoes. When the nurse reported my numbers, I responded, “Is that good or bad?” and later couldn’t remember what they were when Joel asked.
Currently, under doctor’s orders, I’m taking my blood pressure at home: three times a day, two or three times a week, for six weeks. I put up with the nuisance of doing so because I hope to amass enough evidence to avoid taking another pill, but I whine about it.
After I strap on the cuff, I sit quietly, breathing slowly and deeply, visualizing pleasant scenes: sunsets, thickly frosted brownies, a Powerball check with my name on it.
When I’m sufficiently calm, I push the start button and hope. Then I wait for my numbers to flash on the screen so I can record them, study them, compare them, and compute my running average. I’m beginning to feel like a baseball statistician.
I’ve also learned to recognize odd words like bilirubin and alkaline phosphatase. I pronounce them without hesitation or, unfortunately, comprehension. I can recite the acceptable ranges for blood glucose and calcium faster than Dr. Oz; and I don’t panic as the number of tubes drawn for my blood test escalates until I think if the blood-happy nurse doesn’t soon stop, I’ll need a transfusion.
I know my wish to avoid all serious illnesses until the day I die is as doomed as my childhood effort to never lick a wooden popsicle stick; but I also believe staying as healthy as possible for as long as possible will increase the quality of the years I have left to live.
So if you’ll excuse me, my doctor’s nurse just called to say my triglyceride level was a little high on my recent five-tube blood test. I need to go google some new numbers.