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Asking the doctor for a little extension

Sam Cook

DULUTH — A buddy of mine went to see his doctor the other day. Just a regular checkup, no pressing concerns. He's a contemporary of mine, which is to say he's enjoyed several decades of life on Earth.

He checked out just fine, he said. No issues.

The doctor was reviewing my friend's chart, just looking at his medical history. He casually mentioned to my friend: "You've probably got 10 to 20 years left."

There. Just like that.

Understand, I wasn't there. I didn't hear the exact words. I'm quoting the doctor as my friend related the story to me.

My buddy was somewhat taken aback by this pronouncement. Actually, quite a bit taken aback by it. Nobody had ever put it to him in that way before.

"Ten to 20 years?" my pal asked.

Well, yes, the doctor told him.

Statistically speaking, that was probably in the ballpark.

"Geez," my friend said. "Ten to 20, huh?"

He thought for a second.

"I like the sound of 20 a lot better than 10," he told his physician. "Could you put that in writing for me?"

"I'll pencil it in," the doctor said with a smile.

A witty response, I thought.

I'm not sure why the physician told my friend his projected longevity, even if it was accurate in a statistical sense. But I'll bet my friend has those words emblazoned in his psyche somewhere.

What if the doctor is right? What if any of us knew we had 10 to 20? What are you to do with that information? Check your will? Talk to your financial analyst about your stock portfolio? Make sure your spouse knows where the important papers are? Buy the sports car you've always wanted? Buy tickets to Fiji or Antarctica or Mongolia? Start hiking across America? Biking across Europe? Take the train to Churchill to see the polar bears?

Well, maybe.

But I have a hunch that most of us of my buddy's generation would keep doing largely what we're doing right now. Walking the kids or grandkids to the bus stop. Watching them play hockey or ski or run. Getting out for some exercise ourselves. Building things. Reading. Sharing our voices and talents for worthy community endeavors.

I mentioned to a civic group the other day that I hoped to put together another book in the near future. A man I know came up to me after the meeting was adjourned. He's probably 10 or so years my senior. I've always admired him from a distance.

"The book," he said. "Do it now. Don't wait."

He was very emphatic about it.

"Two weeks ago, right here, I had a heart attack," he said. "If it had happened somewhere else, I might not be alive today."

"Do it now," he repeated.

Perhaps my buddy's doctor was telling him much the same thing in so many words. Yes, you're doing fine. But don't take too much for granted. Think about how you want to spend your time.

They probably don't teach that skill in medical school. Maybe that's an acquired wisdom. Maybe it comes from having closed the charts on a lot of patients over the years.

My buddy's Finnish, mostly. Tough old coot. Takes a lot of saunas. I've got him penciled in for 20, minimum.