There we were, my doctor and I, chatting all friendly about my diet and the amount of exercise in my life and I was thinking, Good job, Kevin. You’ve aced another annual physical.
Then the physical took a bad turn.
The doc whipped out his smartphone. In advance of my visit he’d punched data from my lab tests into a handy life expectancy app created by the American Heart Association.
Seriously. There’s an app for that.
I thought my doctor was being a tad theatrical, injecting a high-tech element into what had been a low-tech conversation, but not a problem. I’d seen my lab results in advance. The numbers were pretty good ... all but the one for LDL, commonly known as the bad cholesterol.
My LDL skewed a little high, but so what. What’s one bad number among so many good numbers?
Without asking me to sit down — I was already sitting down — or telling me to take a deep breath — my respiration was just fine — my doc cut to the chase.
Are you ready for this, reader? I wasn’t.
I have a 13 percent chance of a stroke or heart attack over the next 10 years.
You heard right. Stroke or heart attack.
Without warning, I’d been told how my life may end. My body froze. My brain started spinning, spinning.
What the hell had just happened? I hadn’t signed up for this. I’d wanted a little health chat, then to be sent on my way. Instead, I’d been introduced to the Grim Reaper.
Was I supposed to say something? I couldn’t. Nothing in my life experience had prepared me for a moment like this.
I stared straight ahead and wondered where we were going with this. Was I allowed to make a final call home to my wife? Was it finally time to fill out one those end-of-life directives that my doctor keeps pushing on me?
Where we were going with this is this: My doc wanted to put me on a statin drug. Let’s see if we can’t get your LDL down to a safer level, he said.
Millions of people take billions of dollars’ worth of statins in the U.S. I had never expected that one of those people would be me. I’m the guy who never takes drugs.
I was so prideful on this point — a virtual braggart. The world takes medicines for a million chronic conditions but not Kevin Courtney. My lifestyle was too pure to need medicines, my body too perfect.
When it became my turn to speak, the best I could come up with was, What would you do, doctor?
Take the statin, he said.
Of course he would say that! What was I expecting ... an herbal remedy?
My doc didn’t make my decision any easier when he began running through possible side effects, such as muscle pain and elevated blood sugar and blah, blah, blah.
I wasn’t focusing very well. Was the doctor saying that statins could hurt me?
I’ll put you on the lowest possible dose, he said.
I sucked it up and said yes. I had to. I didn’t see any wiggle room.
When Cheryl got home that night, she immediately spied my pill bottle on the kitchen counter. What is this!
The doctor said I need statins. I’m taking statins. I don’t want to die in my prime, I said.
Whoah! she said. You’re moving too fast. Shouldn’t we be trying diet changes first? Let’s get rid of those Starbucks pastries for starters.
Diet won’t do it, I said. Exercise won’t do it. The doc said my lifestyle was already exemplary. I didn’t have enough room for lifestyle improvement.
That’s the story of my life, by the way. Thin, jogging men don’t get prostate cancer. I got prostate cancer.
Statin pills don’t taste like anything. Mine’s the size of a sliver from a regular-size pill.
One week in, I’m not feeling anything, good or bad. The loss of memory and confusion that may result from statins — I’m not seeing it.
Not that I would be the best judge.
Have I mentioned that I have high LDL?