Death of the party

By Jim Mullen

Aunt Alice had a rule that, whenever she had a get-together at her house, we could only talk about our diseases and medications for the first 15 minutes. After that we had to change the subject.

Fifteen minutes is hardly enough time to describe the procedure to replace my pacemaker, much less go into my sciatica -- especially if everyone else is going to keep butting in with tales of their bypasses and blood clots and deep vein thromboses and knee replacements and hip replacements and shingles and carpel tunnel surgeries.

But because of Alice’s rules, we have all edited down our tales two minutes per couple. Much to Sue’s embarrassment, I find showing my scars an easy way to speed up the telling of my story.

My scars are testament to my suffering even though I didn’t suffer very much. I got them all while I was under plenty of anesthetic, and on best pain relievers insurance will buy, but I don’t much see the point in including that in my allotted time. I prefer my version where they poured whiskey down my throat and made me bite down on a stick while they eviscerated me.

Being unhealthy is a competition for men. A guy who has a quadruple bypass is much more macho than a guy who just has only had a triple. The man who only needs to lose 20 pounds is a wimp compared to the guy whose doctor told him he had to lose 120 or he would surely die on his way home from the office.

An operation that lasted eight hours is much better than one that only lasted three. You can gain beaucoup machismo points if you can say you woke up while they were stitching you up.

The funny thing is, you’d think the guys with the worst, most debilitating, most painful, most expensive diseases would be at home in bed under 24-hour care. They are not. They are my golf partners. I think their diseases are actually making them live longer because they live to talk about them.

John, who consistently out-drives me, who consistently beats me, can barely get out of the golf cart. He has bad knees, a bad back, a bad heart, diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, arthritis and tennis elbow. I know all this because that’s all he talks about.

My other partners are just as bad or worse. They, of course, will never die. Unless they had to go to one of Aunt Alice’s parties where they couldn’t talk about everything that ails them. Younger golfers in much better shape have long passed away while these guys live on and on and on.

I pity the middle-aged man who is in good health because he has no stories to tell. What shame he must feel to admit that he has no allergies, that he doesn’t know what his blood-sugar is supposed to be, and that he can do deep-knee bends with no problem, that he has no lower back pain, that he doesn’t take any prescription meds, that he’s heard of Lipitor, but doesn’t quite know why you would take it.

Here is a man you don’t want to sit next to at dinner. He has zero entertainment value. He’s missing out on a huge part of the fun of getting old. I long to hear how much his prescription cost and how much he really pays.

“$380 for 30 pills. And you know what I paid? Guess? Go ahead guess. $2.75!” If you can’t top that, just shut-up and eat. If you have had a recent heart-lung transplant, however, now would be a good time to bring it up. And how much it cost. Down to the penny. That’s entertainment. Just not at Aunt Alice’s.

Jim Mullen is the author of “It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life” and “Baby’s First Tattoo.” You can reach him at

Copyright 2006, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.

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