Magazine | October 29, 2018, Issue

A Sinner at Dinner


My “blood work” is in, Dr. Doogie informs me, and the results are not encouraging. Apparently my blood isn’t working too well. A sample of the red stuff generated a lab result indicating 45 percent hemoglobin, 55 percent cheeseburger. My cholesterol level has apparently passed from “elevated” to “high” to “Danger, Will Robinson.” My cholesterol is the strong man at the circus who rings the bell on the strength meter. My cholesterol is mighty.

“Doogie” is not my doctor’s real name, of course. It’s really “Scooter,” or maybe “Buster.” Doogie is 17 years old, and this detail irks me. I was happy with my old doctor — balding, in his 50s, like me — but had to ditch him after he announced he was switching to a “concierge” model. “Concierge,” it turns out, is French for “five thousand dollars to stay in my club.”

Doogie is urgent and earnest. I prefer my doctors to be aged, sardonic, and dismissive. That? That, you bring me? That’s nothing. Get outta my office, I have actual sick people to see. I like a doctor who is older than I, a man with hair sprouting out of his ears whose jowls and paunch remind me that we’re in this together, this process of internal rot. Okay, Doogie maybe isn’t 17, but he’s a generation younger than I, which means he feels entitled to lecture me. The nerve of this guy. After he ordered me to do something about my cholesterol, I really needed a whisky, which I also couldn’t have because he told me to cut back on my drinking. Somewhere in there, I think, he even told me to cut back on the caffeine. The situation grows dire.

This was all back in August, and I’ve shed ten pounds since then, mainly out of spite. I want my next cholesterol reading to knock this guy for a loop. I want him to stagger to the corner and sink into a chair so shattered that he has to light up a Marlboro to steady his nerves. (Incidentally, remember when you could thrill your doctors by telling them you didn’t smoke, that you never smoked, that tobacco is as alien to you as Pluto? Now they’re #unimpressed.) I picture Dr. Doogie trembling as he tells me, “I . . . didn’t think you could do it. I’ve never seen such a turnaround. I apologize for doubting you. Have you been living on . . . oatmeal?” In fact I have. Oatmeal, apples, spinach . . . a bag of baby carrots in my immediate vicinity is no safer, today, than a bag of potato chips was six months ago.

Mmm, potato chips. Haven’t had any of those lately. No red meat for me either, with just a handful of exceptions. Almost no cheese. No added butter. It’s all a bit . . . Lenten. Except I have no Easter ham to look forward to. Not if I’m going to utterly own Dr. Doogie every time I see him in the future.

Doctors have become our new confessors: Forgive me, Father, for I have binged. Except the priests of the caduceus keep fiendishly effective lie detectors in their medical gizmos. And they never let us off with a penance as easy as ten Hail Marys. I’d much rather praise Our Lady than core apples, wash spinach, peel oranges, boil steel-cut oats, or do any of the thousand other tedious tasks that attend healthy eating.

And this is where my sense of injustice kicks in. Doctor Doogie ordered penance for a sin I didn’t commit. I’m not a gourmand, I’m just lazy. Surely the latter infraction is a venial one? At the moment the test results were doomily laid out before me like a tarot reader flipping over the hanged-man card, I experienced flashback to a lifetime’s eating habits. Fast food. Canned meals. Prepared snacks from boxes and packages. All of it highly convenient, very often cheap, and much cheaper than fresh produce. All of it laden with saturated fat. Food means very little to me; the quicker, the better, say I. Sure, occasionally I enjoy a succulent sirloin or a plate of baby backs. But in general I take no joy from eating. To me it’s purely a functional necessity, a vaguely tedious duty like doing the dishes. I’ve got more interesting things to do than ingest and digest. If I could take a pill that would make it unnecessary to eat anything again, ever, I would.

“All highly interesting but highly irrelevant,” I hear Doc Doogie telling me. My arteries don’t care about my neutral stance toward them, take no interest in whether I clogged them up with relentless animosity or bored lack of en­gagement. Nor does my medical confessor offer any priestly therapy. They’re stern, these fellows. Do life their way or suffer the consequences.

As with any sinner, however, I am uncertain how long I can remain virtuous. Last week I did tuck into spicy lamb with noodles. My wife informed me on Saturday that we were having coconut-curry chicken. The can of coconut milk for which the recipe calls, it turns out, contains three days’ worth of saturated fats, but who am I to tell my wife what to cook? There are dinner parties at which it would be rude to request a special entrée, and anyway I’d feel geriatric if I did so. Already I’ve become a label bore, clandestinely flipping every package around to check for iniquitous sat-fats. How much more boring do I have to get to triumph over Doctor Doogie? Mix me a martini while I think about that. Wait, there’s no fat in that, is there?

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