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GROUNDED BY MY FATHER'S LIFE
By Joe Brancatelli
May 23, 2013 -- So I got the most annoying 60th birthday present yesterday: My father's life, complete with his illnesses and even the same drugs with ridiculous names that I remember he had to take.
This is no joke or strained attempt at a metaphor. After going 30 years or so without seeing or needing a doctor, a weekend of intense pain led the estimable Martin Deutsch and his peripatetic urologist to get me an uber-short-notice appointment on Tuesday with a great young doctor. He and his assistant then committed what would be classified as a sexual assault in any other circumstance, stuck me with a needle and cut me with a knife. He then produced a blizzard of prescriptions, ordered a tornado of tests and suggested that, at a minimum, I probably did have the same gastrointestinal disease that laid low my father. Maybe some other stuff, too.
Then he told me bluntly: "We'll be seeing each other for a while."
And that is no joke for a business traveler. I had a very heavy travel schedule at this particular moment and none of it had anything to do with a Manhattan doctor.
I was supposed to be in California this weekend. I had to cancel. The folks at Delta Air Lines juggled contractors and the TSA to get me a pre-opening tour of its new terminal at Kennedy Airport. I was so sick that I had to cancel. I was supposed to be in Frankfurt next week. That ain't happening. I was going to Asia next month. No chance now.
Without being pompous or arrogant, this kind of stuff doesn't happen to me. I haven't been in a hospital since I had my tonsils out as a kid. Never had to go to an emergency room. Never took anything stronger than an occasional Tylenol. I've been so blessed, so healthy, so unmedicated over the years that I can recall the few instances of minor ailments that have impacted my life on the road. In fact, they're part of my cocktail-party patter.
Did I ever tell you about the time I had a bad cold in Honolulu decades ago, got zonked when I took a Sudafed, wandered aimlessly around a gigantic suite and couldn't find the bed--or a TV that seemed to be endlessly playing the Walk Like an Egyptian video? Or the time I went to a Roman pharmacy, bought something called Aspirina-C, then stupidly poured it into a glass of hot water because I didn't know it was Italian Alka-Seltzer? Or when my wife and I brought our niece back from London and I was feeling off, so my niece gave me a blue pill (Advil Liqui-Gel) in a Heathrow lounge and I slept from the moment I flopped into the seat until the moment my wife poked me awake when we landed?
So this you've-got-your-father's-life thing, arriving precisely for my 60th birthday and knocking me off the road, is creepy. And now there are two things I hate about May 22 because it's also the date of Richard Wagner's birthday and I really, really, really hate Der Ring des Nibelungen.
It's terribly important to stress here that 1) I have and continue to be the luckiest fat, old, bald white guy on the planet when it comes to health; and 2) I know from talking with a lot of you over the years that your lives have been visited with terrible injuries and illnesses that make my current contretemps seem trivial. I have always admired your strength and your determination to soldier on. And you need look no further than Michael Matthews' recent columns about his health challenges to read more compelling life stories.
But I also know what my father went through after he first got whacked. It made him cry and made him crazy and old before his time, to crib a few poignent lines from Crosby, Stills and Nash. And given how my own business-travel life has benefitted by being magically free from medical complications until now, it makes me wonder how I'll manage all this. It makes me worry that I won't have the time or the energy to worry about telephones and managers. How many times will I have to skip being where I have to be at noon?
I mean, even as I've been bashing this out, I had to stop several times and deal with phone calls and E-mails from the doctor's office and some medical imaging joint just so I can get a CT scan tomorrow. Why am I discussing the bloody gauze stuck up my butt with a total stranger?
What the hell do I know about my insurance? My wife and I have paid lots of money into the system over the years, we get cards that I stick in my wallet and they are ignored until I get another card with a new insurance company's name on it.
I had to go to six pharmacies in three counties to even find the antibiotics and other stuff I must ingest and insert on a schedule so intricate that I had to create a series of BlackBerry alerts so I won't forget.
I don't have time for this. I've got places to go. People to see. Airlines bosses to ridicule. Hotel toiletries to steal. I was gearing up for laugenbrötchen. I've got work to do.
I mean, when I can do the work. I managed exactly one interview this week and only because the guy called me. (Pay attention, fellow flyers: The smart folks at Chase Bank have removed foreign-exchange fees from the United Explorer card.) I abandoned Tactical Traveler because I was so unsure of my ability to report accurately. I don't remember writing this week's Seat 2B. I probably screwed up the edit on this week's column by the ever-patient Chris Barnett.
I've written about a zillion times over the years that business travel stinks. But I could always do it. I've never had to tell a client, "uh, no, sorry, can't go. Can't fly there."
This, to me, is new. I don't like it. I certainly never wanted to be 60 years old--and a 60-year-old health-care system virgin to boot. I really should have been in California to work this weekend. I really wanted to be in Frankfurt next week.
Being grounded, like Wagner's cacophonous, overwrought music, simply doesn't work for me. Those damned Valkyries are flying. Why can't I?
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ABOUT JOE BRANCATELLI Joe Brancatelli is a publication consultant, which means that he helps media companies start, fix and reposition newspapers, magazines and Web sites. He's also the former executive editor of Frequent Flyer and has been a consultant to or columnist for more business-travel and leisure-travel publishing operations than he can remember. He started his career as a business journalist and created JoeSentMe in the dark days after 9/11 while he was stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in the tourist town of Cold Spring.
THE FINE PRINT All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.
This column is Copyright © 2013 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2013 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.