I used to worry about STDs. Every ingrown hair or pimple was a one-of-a-kind knee herpes, or early-onset tertiary syphilis. Now, my real anxiety is triggered in the airport security line, thinking of all the other sweaty socks I’m mating with as I put my shoes and laptop on the X-Ray belt and climb into the airport scanner. The jogger in front of you with the athlete’s foot. The old woman hobbling on an invisible gangrenous infection. Cellulitis? I used to worry about getting a girl pregnant. It’s never the things your fear that get you in the end.
A month ago, I was carved up like a Swiss cheese. An all-but-untreatable super bacteria had taken residence on my chin where I’d scratched my beard. My stomach looked like a gunshot wound looks after you’ve stopped the bleeding. Then it spread to my leg, and that’s when I started to panic.
It’s been a month, now, and today, I ended the bandages. The wounds are healed, all but for the scars and what’s underneath. Each of them seems to hide an ever-shrinking marble of scar-tissue just below the surface.
My leg is just a slightly purplish bruise. I’m not sure if it will ever go away. On my stomach, a jagged scar has made a home. It looks like a superfluous third nipple. But the face is a little different. Even though the doctor intended to minimize scarring, the MRSA destroyed so much that there’s a fifty-cent-piece size patch of tissue unable to grow hair in my beard. All of the follicles were eaten by the bacteria. The skin still looks like skin, but underneath it’s all scar tissue. And right in the center, a pimple. Or rather, a monument to a pimple. I’ll wear this angry nub, this unpoppable zit for the future. Every time I shave or touch my face, there an instinctive urge to pick at it, but consider my lesson learned.
Other lessons have stuck. A random medical condition crumbles your sense of immortality. It’s different than getting shot at, or mortared, or getting your ass beat in the back of a New Delhi Fiat. You just wake up one day and you’re getting eaten alive by the world’s smallest predator.
Then people talk about how now you have a better chance of catching it again, and how you’ll be weaker next time. If a serious case of MRSA has about the same mortality rate as a Russian Roulette, then every exposure after is another round in the revolver.
It makes me realize that I’m not going to live to 100. Financial advice tends to be simple: you could be saving more. You know, for later. But what if you slave away like a squirrel hoarding nuts for the long winter of retirement, only to get prostate cancer at 65?
“On a long enough timeline, the life expectancy for everyone drops to zero.” -Tyler Durden in Fight Club
I spent the last few weeks thinking about that. I could hunker down at a desk job, begging for time off, just enough for Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. Maybe a deep sea fishing trip here or there. Or I could approach these days with a combination fatalistic and opportunistic attitude: if you were going to die tomorrow, what would you do today?
Well, today, I’m headed to London. No plans. No reservations. Why? Because I’ve never been. Maybe I’ll get laid. Maybe I’ll go on a trip and expand my mind in the middle of Stone Henge. But at the very least, I’m going to park my ass in London and I’m gonna see those silly redcoats in person, lest I die before I get the chance.