I closed my eyes and concentrated on the tone, listening as it grew louder and then receded. I detected faint modulations in pitch. Each time I heard the tone, I pressed the red button on the stick I held in my right hand, as instructed. After a while, I no longer heard anything. I sat still, leaving the earphones in place, my thumb on the button. I wanted to be ready if the tone returned. The nurse entered the examination room and turned off the machine. “You been sitting like that long?,” she asked. “It’s been over for a few minutes, you know.”
I opened my eyes and removed the headset. “I thought so. It’s kind of relaxing, I guess. I kind of zoned out there.”
“Hmm,” she nodded, looking at the read out. “Okay, so the doctor will be right in. You can undress and sit on the table. There’s a robe on the hook.”
“Okay, thanks.” She closed the door as she left. I tugged off my fleece, wondering if that “hmm” meant anything. I undressed to boxers and slipped on the robe. Paper crinkled under me as I sat on the examination table.
The doctor looked up from my chart as he opened the door. “Good morning, uh, Henry,” he nodded. “I’m Doctor Berkowitz.”
“Good morning, doctor. We’ve met before.”
He offered his hand. “Of course, we’ve met. Old habit. I always announce myself like that.”
“I’m naked and you’re the nervous one,” I grinned. My feet swung as they dangled from the table. I was a little nervous myself, as one is when getting a physical. I felt fine, but one always wonders: what if they find something?
“Yes, I suppose so,” he chortled. His eyes returned to the chart. “Now, let’s see . . . ah, you just turned forty two. Happy birthday.”
“Any particular complaints?”
“Nope, I feel great.”
“Good, good. That’s what we like to hear. You seem to be in fine shape. Your weight is good, your cholesterol is terrific . . .” I smiled, as though I had earned a gold star for eating well.
He pulled out the results of my hearing test. “Let me ask you: do you find it increasingly difficult to distinguish sounds? Like, is it harder to hear a specific voice in a crowd?”
I felt a jolt of panic. “Uh, yes, it is.”
“And do you find it increasingly difficult to read fine print, or to make out objects at a distance?”
Oh my God. “Yes, yes I do.”
“Do you wear glasses?”
“No, I never have.”
“Hmm, well, you might want to get your eyes examined.” He joted a note.
“Why?” I asked. “Is there something wrong?”
“No,” he smiled. “You’re just getting older. Things change on this side of forty. You’ll notice things are different as you age.”
“Oh, well . . . I guess that’s to be expected . . .” I tried not to sound crestfallen. I’m just getting older, that’s all. Big deal.
Doctor Berkowitz continued. “Let me just ask you some more questions, running down this list . . . do you smoke?”
I sat upright, folding my hands in my lap. “No.”
“Good. Did you quit or . . .”
“Nope, never took it up.”
“Even better.” He made a check on my chart. “Drink?”
“Yes, please. Cabernet would be nice.”
Doctor Berkowitz looked up. He laughed. “No, I wasn’t offering a drink. I was asking if you drink.”
“I do, mostly wine and bourbon.”
“More than I should.”
“Hmmm.” He made a note on my chart. “Let’s watch that. Are you sexually active?”
“And how!” My legs swung a little faster.
Doctor Berkowitz looked up. “Are you married or single?”
“Male or female?”
Doctor Berkowitz was momentarily confused. “Oh, you mean ‘both?’ You have relations with men as well as women?’
“Yes, and occasionally both at the same time.”
“So you are bisexual.”
He wrote a “b” on my chart, then paused again. “And may I refer to you as bisexual?”
“Yes, please do,” I smiled. He continued to write “isexual.”
“I assume you are safe? You use condoms?”
“Yes. I’d like to get a battery of STI tests too, while I’m here.”
“I’m just noting that as we speak,” he said as he wrote. “I’ll send the nurse back in to draw blood.” He took a moment to write, then closed the chart. He clicked the pen and slid it into his shirt pocket.
“Okay,” he said, standing. “This reminds me to check your prostate.” He reached for lube and a latex glove.
I hopped from the table and turned. “My bisexuality reminds you to check my prostate?”
He looked taken aback. “No, I meant . . . it’s just that you are over forty, and therefore at increased risk . . .”
I laughed. “I’m kidding, Doctor Berkowitz!” I lowered my boxers and bent over the table.
“I forget what a comedian you are. Okay, so let’s take a look, funny man . . .”
“No extra charge . . . huh?” I grunted.
A moment later, the glove hit the trash canister. Doctor Berkowitz washed up, offering off-handed advice about being safe and healthy. We shook as he headed off for another patient. A nurse came in and told me to get dressed before the next tests.
I peed into a cup. I bled into a vial.
A week later, I opened my mail and learned that I was in fine health. Of course, I expected that.
Each night as I lay in bed, wondering.