LONGLEAF STORIES

full circle in the hundred acre wood

New Orleans is one of those towns so well known for its “laissez le bon temps roule” atmosphere that all one has to do is say, “I’m going to New Orleans,” and resonating thought bubbles begin to waft through the blogosphere.

I didn’t mean to mislead you, but my trip to New Orleans last week didn’t take me to the French Quarter or the Garden District. Next time, for sure.

Buck and I drove our new conversion van (totally retro and a heck of a lot of fun), a/k/a “The Silver Bullet” from Pensacola to New Orleans a week ago today. Approaching the Cresent City just before afternoon rush hour, I fired up the cell phone to get specific directions to our local destination.

Have you ever noticed that most people are terrible at giving driving directions? (Me, too. I’m the guiltiest.) You ask, “Which exit?” They say, “Oh, well, I don’t know the number, but it’s close to that big billboard,” (or the Big Chcken if you’re near Atlanta, or some other landmark unknown to all but locals), “but YOU CAN’T MISS IT.” Oh, yeah. Right. Not more than twice, anyway.

Following directions, Mapquest, blind instinct and Buck’s inner compass, we found our destination: The Brent House Hotel, a subsidiary of Ochsner Clinic Foundation.

What? Oh, man, I thought this was going to be a story about great restaurants, street scenes, flora and fauna of that colorful city on the Mississippi River. Not this time.

About five years ago, we started going over to the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville once a year for a “wellness” physical. We had figured out some years before that many people end up dead before their time or in nursing homes because they don’t do some basic simple things to keep themselves healthy. I just said something that reflects the arrogance of the healthy. Okay. I know that many folks, including some of my best friends, have had things go ka-blooie with their physical bods which have very little or nothing to do with their diet, exercise regimen, or genetic inheritance. Sometimes, oops happens, no matter what we do.

“Pray to God, but swim toward shore.”

— Unknown

When Buck’s mother spent her final years in a nursing home, with hot and cold running twenty-four hour care, we both began to find out why people who were there, were there. What had gone wrong? Some of the residents were over ninety years old, but too many of them were in their sixties. Scary.

High blood pressure. Strokes. Intermittent claudication. Heart attacks. Dementia. Diabetes. Kidney failure. Alzheimer’s. Tumors.

Some of these conditions, particularly the ones involving the circulatory system, are preventable or at the very least controllable, with exercise and proper dietary choices.

We looked at the situation analytically, and decided to do all we could to maintain our bodies and brains to enable them to go the distance. We reasoned that an early warning system should be a part of our overall regimen. That’s where Mayo Clinic came in. We could go there for a “one stop shopping” exam to get an annual head’s up and make sure nothing was gaining on us.

At Mayo, you fast the evening before, then show up at the lab around 6:50 a.m. to have blood drawn. Later on, there’s a meeting with your internist, then a treadmill stress test, chest x-ray, ekg, and whatever other tests or consults may be called for. Generally, the whole thing can be addressed in one day, unless some extra procedure is needed, such as an every five year colonoscopy. It’s a terrific regimen, ending with an exit interview with the internist, which concludes when you walk out the door with a hefty envelope containing copies of your lab work.

Mayo is great, but it’s in Jacksonville, a 5 1/2 hour drive from Pensacola. Ochsner Clinic in New Orleans has a similar program, and the drive there is only 3 1/2 hours. So we decided to check it out, with the idea of switching our annual physicals to Ochsner. Believe it or not, even with a 3, 4 or 5 hour drive, the “one stop shopping” is more time efficient than trying to get it all done locally without running around all over the place. At Mayo or Ochsner, in one day, I can get blood chemistry, chest x-ray, pulmonary tests, bone density, mammogram, and gynecological exam, plus a wrap-up interview with the doc to review the results.

Blood chemistry gives you a fairly precise heads up for any lifestyle fine-tuning that may be needed to stay in a good health groove. Cholesterol reading (HDL and LDL) and liver numbers speak volumes. Proper diet and exercise don’t immunize a person totally from a disease process, but do help you fight the good fight when an enemy appears.

Anyway. This is what our New Orleans trip was all about.

We both got an A plus. We intended to stay longer and enjoy the city, but were just in the mood to come home and hug Maggie dog.

Player piano at Oschner Clinic
Between blood test and chest x-ray, I drank a cup of cafe au lait and ate a raisin scone while listening to this player piano turn out a too sprightly rendition of “Make Someone Happy.”
I’ve always hated the surgery done on pianos to turn them into tarted up music boxes. But sitting there that morning sipping my coffee, watching as people of all ages walked by, limped by and wheeled by, some reaching out to touch the keyboard, I changed my mind. The music touched them, and that morning, it touched me, too.

Y’all be good, now.

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