Milestone birthdays are really something. People truly go out of their way to wish you the best. It’s delightful. Having just gone through a pretty major birthday, I was thrilled to hear from people both near and far. I even got a card from my local Member of Parliament. Sweet. This week, however, I received a letter from the Nation’s Chief Health Officer. The words ‘happy birthday’ didn’t appear, but the message was clear: Congratulations! You’re now in an age bracket in which you’ll be pushed, prodded and generally put under the microscope. Good grief.
The letter was to forewarn me. It told me, in simple and emotionally detached terms, I could expect to receive a bowel cancer screening kit through the mail. It says something that they don’t just send you the kit; that they feel the need to tell you it’s coming rather than have it lob up on your doorstep unannounced along with the ‘Goonies’ t-shirt you ordered on ‘RedBubble’. What it’s really saying is this: brace yourself. I am now officially on notice.
The first thing I’ll do is express my disappointment that the Chief Health Officer communicated to me by letter, rather than by birthday card. Personally, I’d love to receive a card that said, ‘Happy birthday! Consider this testing kit a small gift from me to you!’ Or if, on balance, it was felt that a birthday card was too trivial a vessel for a message of such profound importance, then maybe something a little more personal. Like a Gorilla Gram.
There are some people who think that a Gorilla Gram could work to trivialize what is an extremely important and potentially life-saving message. Those people, however, fail to appreciate the work that goes into delivering a really good Gorilla Gram. It’s not just about strapping on a gorilla suit and spouting any old rubbish. These people are masters of their craft and can be trusted to deliver sensitive information, albeit in gorilla form. If the letter was intended to soften the blow, surely the distraction of a counterfeit primate would lighten the shock to the point that the recipient may fail to comprehend it altogether.
I get it. The message is too serious for a Gorilla Gram, but not serious enough to warrant a home visit. Rather, it’s somewhere in that awkward in-between space. Were it not for the subject matter, I’d say that the issue falls between two stools.
This puts me in an invidious position. One in which I am now awaiting the arrival of said testing kit. I’m not sure what to expect. A series of test tubes, a Bunsen burner and a microscope? Maybe the kind of set up that comes with Walter White’s seal of approval (with a picture of Walt on the box giving a ‘thumbs up’)? I hope so. Or a test that involves a series of equations and a sixty-minute time limit, complete with a ‘zero-tolerance’ approach to the use of calculators? I was never that great under pressure.
I’m not afraid to say it – if the test arrives by truck, I may panic. Not to put it too highly but if I hear the ‘reverse’ beeper and peek out through the blinds to see someone lowering a tray at the rear of a semi trailer, I could well scarper out the back door and over the neighbour’s fence. Similarly, if the test is delivered by someone wearing a Hazmat suit, it’s possible that I may refuse to open the door altogether.
When it does turn up, I’ll need to get it out of the envelope / box / metal container stamped with the word ‘biohazard’, in which it arrived before use. It begs the question whether the test itself will be suitably gift-wrapped. I think that would be appropriate. It is, after all, a birthday present of a kind.
This is not the first time I’ve had an age-related birthday shock. Immediately following an earlier milestone birthday, the professional association I belonged to wrote to both congratulate me advise that I had been removed from the list of ‘young practitioners’. I was outraged. Demanding that I restored to the list, I remain there to this day. On this occasion, however, there’s no putting it off.
The thing I’m most concerned about is the fact that there will be instructions. I am hopeless at following directions – a fact that has seen me banned for life from IKEA stores worldwide. Who knows what kind of instructions they’ll be? Super-wordy instructions that try and tell a story? Or ones that uses pictures and, if we’re being honest, leave a lot to the imagination? Instructions and I have a somewhat difficult history. There’s a very real risk that I’ll get it wrong. Potentially resulting in even more correspondence from the Chief Health Officer.
Let me say this – to live in an age where you get a test through the mail that may well save your life is an amazing, glorious thing. Will I take my test when it comes? You bet I will. I won’t go so far as to say that I’ll make a day of it, but I’m grateful that these programs exist. Perhaps it’s the sense of anticipation that I’m struggling with. Or the fact that it’s a tangible reminder of how things change as you get older. Happy birthday to me.