Letter From Milo: The Fear of God

November 12th, 2012

A few years ago, when I was preparing for major surgery, the doctor asked my wife about my lifestyle. He wanted to know if I had any bad habits.

The lovely Mrs. Milo replied, “Yes, he does. He smokes and drinks and eats red meat. He likes to gamble and he occasionally smokes marijuana with some of his low-life friends. And I know for a fact that he regularly entertains impure thoughts.”

“Let’s hope this surgery makes him change his ways,” the doctor said. “Maybe a few hours on the operating table will put the fear of God into him.”

“Doctor, you don’t know my husband. He won’t listen to anyone’s advice and he takes direction poorly. I doubt he’ll change his ways.”

My wife was right. Against all common sense, against sound medical advice, and much to the despair of several members of my immediate family, I quickly reverted to form and resumed the low-life diversions that had always been a comfort to me.

Shortly after recovering from surgery, I was, once again, happily wallowing in a mire of liquor, tobacco, red meat, reefer and thoughts of an impure nature.

A while ago, I was sitting on a barstool in Swillagains when an old friend, who I’ll call Pete, sat next to me and ordered a drink. Pete didn’t look well. His skin had a yellowish caste and he looked like he had lost some weight.

When I asked about his health, Pete said, “Fucking liver’s been acting up again.”

“That’s too bad.”

“Doctor says I should quit drinking.”

“Well, that’s something to consider.”

“Ah, the fucker’s been telling me to quit drinking for 20 years. I’m thinking about getting a second opinion.”

A little later, I was standing outside of the saloon, enjoying a cigarette with an old friend, who I’ll call Tim. We were in the middle of a conversation when Tim went into a hacking and wheezing fit that lasted for a couple of minutes.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

“Yeah, I’m fine. It’s just the fucking emphysema acting up again.”

“Sorry to hear it.”

“Doctor told me if I wanted to live much longer I’d have to quit smoking.”

“What did you say?”

“I told him I’d think about it.”

Later that evening, as I was enjoying a glass of red wine and mulling over the day’s events, I thought about the choices that my friends Pete and Tim had made. When presented with evidence that their behavior would have detrimental and possibly fatal consequences, they chose to ignore it. They didn’t believe it, didn’t understand it, or didn’t care. In any case, they refused to take their doctors advice.

Now, these doctors had, no doubt, seen the damage that heavy drinking and smoking can cause. They have treated people with ruined lungs and corroded livers. They’ve watched heavy smokers slowly choke to death as cancer squeezed the life out of them. They’ve watched heavy drinkers turn yellow and die because their livers failed. They’ve probably told an untold number of people who led self-destructive lifestyles that they were doomed.

Inevitably, when patients are told they have a terminal illness, the first question they ask is, “How long have I got?”

The doctors generally give an educated guess. It could be weeks, months, or even a couple of years. But deep in their hearts, doctors know that the true answer is, “Not long enough, my friend.”

I wish Tim and Pete would have taken their doctors’ advice.

Man, I’m glad I’m not a dumbass like those guys.

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