I waited in the cardiologist’s small examination room stuffed with furniture and equipment used for repairing worn out and exhausted hearts. A tall medical cabinet on one side of the room was fitted with small drawers, each bearing a plastic label strip naming the contents and hinting at awful things ahead. “Gloves, mirrors, clamps,” were stored in the drawer at my eye level. I sat in the designated patient chair. A wheeled swivel stool with a black vinyl seat—the seat of authority—awaited the doctor.
The plastic labels reminded me of Nick, the man who sold us our house, described by his wife as a picky Virgo. He owned a vintage Dymo label maker a nephew had given him for Christmas in 1967. The Dymo company would never find a more enthusiastic user. He identified every drawer, cupboard, and electrical outlet in the garage. Once the garage was finished, he moved indoors where he named the light switches by sticking the labels directly onto the painted drywall. If we pulled them off, an ugly paint-stripped scar would remain. We left them and with time, became nostalgic about them. Fran, Nick’s wife, must have banned him and his device from the kitchen otherwise I’d have cabinets dotted with red strips reminding me that “large spoons, small spoons, steak knives” belonged in a particular drawer. I wonder what Nick would think today about his organized garage now heaped with stuff all willy-nilly. Over the years, just as the organization system he’d left us had gone to hell, so had hundreds of his labels lost their grip. When a drawer became jumbled, its label would curl up and unstick as if embarrassed to be proclaiming order where only confusion reigned. When we swept, the dried-up red plastic strips looked like discarded cocoons.
The doctor’s assistant, a perky blond, entered the room, her ponytail swinging. As she recorded my vitals on a clipboard, I noticed her eyes were the same dreamy blue as her uniform, the eye color that ran through the Irish side of my family, but skipped me.
My eyes were the reason I was visiting the cardiologist. When my optometrist checked my vision a month before, he commented the rings around my eyes—he called them cholesterol rings—were increasing in size. A corona of watery, yellowish-blue stuff, circled my brown irises and gave me a vacant look. “No one’s home,” they seemed to announce when I checked my face in the mirror. Everybody in my family had the cholesterol rings. Every one of them died of a heart attack.
The assistant pushed the stool aside as she left the room. The seat did a solo pirouette, like a figure skater, and wound down just as the doctor entered. He lowered himself onto it and pushed himself from the cabinet to me. Arms crossed, he asked me a few questions, then used his foot to glide back to the cabinet where he made notes on the clipboard. I guessed he was jotting reminders next to my name . . . “likes to travel, has a cat.” My friend who worked for a Korean veterinarian told me the vet stuck a star on the corner of the pet’s chart if the owner was an “ashhole” as the Korean pronounced it. I hoped I wasn’t getting a poor grade. The doctor wheeled back with a muted flourish. You could tell he enjoyed the short rides.
As he scribbled, I looked over at the examination table. Menacing clamps adorned the sides; wires coiled out from beneath into black boxes covered with knobs and dials. What were those headphone things? It looked like the scene for a lobotomy. I began to sweat.
“Fleshy.” I heard the cardiologist mumble as he made another note.
“What?” I asked. “Was I supposed to hear that?”
“Well,” said the doctor, doing a half-twirl toward me and looking at his clipboard. “You have . . . fat, around your middle that I don’t like.”
“Well, I don’t like it either,” I added. “But fleshy? Is that a medical term?”
The cardiologist explained that I was turning into an apple—the worst shape and highest risk for heart attack. “Less fleshy would be better.” he said with a straight face. Whatever name you want to use, I was entering the dark side. Ahead lay a whole new set of euphemisms to explore for my fleshy stomach roll: belly, gut, paunch, spare tire and the most naively optimistic of all, love handles.
I called my slim husband and told him I was walking home and why. “It’s only ten miles,” I said. He reminded me that walking one mile burned sixty-five calories. I’d burn up only six hundred and fifty calories for all the risks on the road. “It’s not the end of the world,” he said. “Do you want to chance getting hit by a car for the caloric equivalent of a loaded baked potato?”
“Hmmm . . . not something I’d want on my tombstone,” I replied.
I got into the car and thought about resurrecting Nick’s Dymo marker to make reminder labels for my freezer and refrigerator. FLESHY— the red strips would warn.