“Do you have any questions?”, he asked as he slid a copy of my blood test results and the freshly signed sheet from his prescription pad across the desk.
“Aren’t I too young for this?”, I said. He laughed.
Apparently ‘I’m too young to be on cholesterol medication’ is no longer a valid medical excuse. Ouch. My pride wounded, I drove to my local pharmacy and stood in line, embarrassed.
My cholesterol has yo-yoed up and down for the better part of a decade: several dozen points here and there, the bad cholesterol (which letters are those again?) always outweighing the good kind (I think there’s an D and an L?) and my triglycerides (is that even a thing?) have too often been off the charts. I’ve had multiple doctors over the years warn me about the potential dangers – heart attacks and strokes at the top of the list – but none of them seemed to be too worried about it, so I never worried either. I am young, I told myself. I can get this under control. No problem.
I took on the task of lowering my cholesterol as a point of pride: I can do this. With a little exercise here and there (emphasis on little) and devoting at least some of my attention to my diet, I figured I could get my levels down pretty easily. I thought I could do it myself.
And so I worked at it, haphazardly, off and on for brief periods of time. I’d be intentional about walking for 5 days, and then stop – just as suddenly as I had started. I’d try to watch what I was eating, cutting out salt here and there, only to replace it with pastas and other carbs. I knew what I liked to eat and what I didn’t. I knew what was easy to do and what was not. And I acted accordingly, eating with reckless abandon and skipping most forms of exercise.
Through the years I was able to fool some doctors over time by frantically adopting binge workouts and crash diets in the weeks leading up to my scheduled appointments. So, I was not totally surprised when, earlier this month, time finally caught up with me. Just shy of my 35th birthday, I’m the newest member of the medicated club: 40mg of Lipitor per day. A low-dose statin for my high-level problem.
The bottle with its child-protective cap sat on my desk for few days, taunting me. A daily pill – probably for the rest of my life. The prospect felt so demoralizing. What’s wrong with me? Can’t I just get over this problem?
The truth is, I can’t. Even if I could get ahold of my eating habits (I’m trying!) and work out an exercise regimen (I’m toning!), my genes still have a lot of sway over that final number. I am flawed in this way, and no amount of work I do will make me perfect or bring about total success. My body betrays me, and I am as fragile in ego as I am in health.
I’ve been taking the pills now for a few weeks. I don’t notice any physical difference, and this isn’t as much of an emotional crisis as I have feared it might be. I thought I’d spiral into some existential depression, with the dual insults of advancing age and the inability to will myself into perfection both weighing on me.
But as I pop a pill into my mouth each morning, there is an invitation to accept what’s being offered to me: a dose of help in a small white tablet.
And I need that help. The reality is I am limited, fragile in health and ego. I cannot heal myself. I’m not OK – and that’s OK. No one asked me to be.
“Do you have any questions?”, my doctor asked. In that moment, I was too stung to think of anything except how I had failed to project perfection – an endless and hopeless task. Now I wonder: why did I wait so long to take advantage of the help I obviously need?
And that’s not a question my doctor can answer.