As some of us succumb to unpleasant sharings of the season -- bugs that invade our bodies and dampen our usual good spirits, I am doubly reminded of "You're Only Old Once," Dr. Seuss's next to his last book. The last was "Oh the Places You'll Go" published in 1990, the year before his death. The lesser-known work is written and illustrated with the same humor and panache as his 45 books for the younger set, but "Only Old Once" speaks to anyone who knows someone who is old, is themselves old, or ever intends to be old. And it is relevant for anyone of any age who has ever been through or is about to go through an abusive, intrusive medical procedure.
In his usual prophetic and optimistic way, Dr. Seuss begins the story with images of the future faraway land of Fotta-fa-zee where "everybody feels fine at a hundred and three 'cause the air that they breathe is potassium-free and because they chew nuts from the Tutt-a-Tutt Tree."
But back in the present, at the "Golden Years Clinic on Century Square for Spleen Readjustment and Muffler Repair" our hapless hero is about to be prodded and probed in undignified and unmentionable ways.
Should you try to back out, "The Quiz-Docs will catch you! They'll start questionnairing! They'll ask you, point blank, how your parts are all faring. And your grandfather's parts …" and grandmother's, cousins' and uncle's, "Did they suffer Bus Driver's Blight, Chimney Sweep's Stupor, or Pruned Picker's Plight?" Sound familiar?
At this point, "Your escape plans have melted!" For you've already lost your necktie and vest, your socks and your pants, your drawers and your shoes, and the Oglers are having their way. "And silently, grimly, they ogle away."
"What those Oglers have learned they're not ready to tell. Clinicians don't spout their opinions pell-mell." Oh doctors, please read this book!
Your only hope is that there is a vestibule fish like Norval. "He won't bring you much comfort, you know. But he's quite sympathetic as Clinic Fish go."
Hours later you will have seen doctors Von Crandall, Pollen, and Van Ness who sends you round to Von Eiffel. "Then into the New Wing!" Where you will see Drs. Spreckles and Ginns, …"who does Antrums and Shins, and of course he'll refer us to Doctors McGrew, McGuire and Mc Pherson and Blinn …" and others, "all of whom will prescribe a prescription for you."
When you report for your Pill Drill to Room Six Sixty-three "a voice will instruct you, 'Repeat after me …'" You'll learn when to take the white pill, green pill, loganberry pill, the zebra-striped one, orange ones, blue ones, pinkies and reds. "This long flat one is what I take if I should die before I wake."
When at last, you are "properly pilled" and "properly billed," "there's a very good chance that you'll meet soon again with your socks, coat, and pants."
"And you'll know once your necktie's back under your chin and Norval has waved you Godspeed with his fin, you're in pretty good shape for the shape you are in!"
Images of Seuss's hero, now ingrained in my brain, help me endure my own medical adventures with spirit in tact. So a few years ago, I waved to Norval and left my copy of "You're Only Old Once" in the waiting room of the cancer center where I had been taking a friend for treatments. I continue to find, though, that while humor may not lessen the ouch, vex or red-face, it sure makes the ride down "Stethoscope Row" more bearable.