July 23, 2013


So a year or two back, my grandson Christopher and I loaded up some brush and headed for the landfill. We arrived at the check-in point, but instead of being waved through I was asked to present my driver's license and then ordered to drive back around and through the the entry gate again. I was then told to proceed to a waiting area where someone would assist me. About five minutes later, a county truck pulled up in a cloud of dust and a hearty hi-ho Silverado. A man dressed in jeans and a county work-shirt stepped out. He was holding a clipboard. A man with a clipboard is a man who means business.

In his other hand he held a device that he identified as a Geiger counter. The landfill has radiation detectors at the entry point -- presumably to detect illicit medical waste -- and my load had triggered an alert. I notice then that the form was some kind of log mandated by Homeland Security. Wonderful. I'm gong to be on the landfill terrorist watch list.

I explain that my load is just tree branches and brush. I open the back of the Sorento, and the guy sweeps the interior. Nothing. Then he walks by me. The needle jumps up, and he jumps back. Even standing several feet away from me, the counter is showing radiation. I try to approach and he waves me back, telling me that he can't get any closer than he is. I'm thinking, shit, what about Christopher, who has been with me all morning? What the heck is going on here?

Suddenly, the light bulb goes off. A couple of days before, I had been to my cardiologist for a nuclear stress test. This is where they insert an IV, run radioactive dye through it, and then strap a bunch of electrodes on you and put you on a treadmill until you either reach a heart rate over 120 or have cardiac arrest, whichever comes first.

What I didn't understand was how long it takes for the radiation to clear my system. Even two weeks after the initial alert and I went back to the landfill with another load, I still triggered the landfill's radiation detectors. By now, me and Geiger counter guy were on a first name basis. He explained that a lot of truckers of a certain age, shall we say, trigger the alert for the same reason that I did.

All this came to mind yesterday, when I had another nuclear stress test. I found several sources on the Internet questioning the safety of this procedure. I remember as a child I was given radiation therapy to shrink my adenoids, using a procedure you don't want to hear about. The effects of radiation were not as well understood then as they are now. I can tell you that my right ear drum was burnt like toast, something I found out after surgery to repair it.

Risk is a part of life. So is dying. The efforts to forestall the latter can sometimes increase the former. The older you get, the more of these trade-offs you encounter. Modern medicine is getting better every day, but there is still a long way to go before we get to the level envisioned in Star Trek, where Bones can wave a gadget over you and cure a rainy day.

For now, I'm doing what I can to maintain. It's not about living forever. It's about being as healthy, mentally and physically, as deep into the curve as you are able. So, I exercise regularly and eat a reasonably sensible diet. I take the stairs, use a push mower, and walk when I play golf. I eat a bit less and almost never take seconds unless it's Thanksgiving.

None of this will forestall the inevitable ... just delay it a bit. I've already lived longer than my father did, something that may not have happened if I hadn't made some changes. As I used to say in an old blog, it's something to think about.

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