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He Has Met the Enemy, and It Is Cholesterol


The doctor called. The world collapsed. It was the Big C.

"Cholesterol? I've got cholesterol?"


"What's cholesterol?"

Now you might think it impossible for someone to maintain a pristine ignorance of one of life's most iniquitous substances, something everybody else knows all about. It's the old pleasure / pain principle in action, by which all animals seek the first and avoid the latter as long as they are able.

I've been doing this for a long time. It was only a few years ago I had thrust upon me the existence of a fellow called Sting.

I had heard the word "cholesterol" floating about, knew it was something inside of us all, some kind of blood sludge. But it wasn't the kind of thing likely to hold my attention. Maybe I felt myself an exception, someone immune to the creep of what we now call, laughingly, "the aging process."

Accordingly, and probably predictability, my first reaction to a 290 cholesterol reading was denial. Impossible! The lab made a mistake.

This was followed almost immediately by annoyance. Annoyance? Of course, that I was just like everybody else. I, too would have this thick gunk slopping through my arteries. I, too, would soon start forgetting things. My life, too, would become just another retelling of the tritest story of our times, the ersatz tragedy of the lowered expectations of an overstuffed, middle-aged man.

I would yearn for all the lunches of yesteryear.

Doubt lingered for a while. I entertained suspicions that maybe cholesterol was a figment, a thing invented on "Oprah" or some wacky cyber venue where the ill-informed convene to offer ersatz sympathy to the ill-starred.


When I made my first inquiries of a nurse about cholesterol, and confessed my high numbers, she unveiled that smug smile of sympathy one reserves for a convert from food paganism to the religion of vegetable nutrition. She told me about this strange world within each of us, this network of arteries and veins, running hundreds of miles, through which pour our very life's blood. She told me about how cholesterol builds inside these rivers of our bodies, and in all the little creeks and brooks, how it slows the vital flow inside these circuitous canals, and finally stops it.

Bang! Your heart is attacked. End of story.

And how does one acquire this killer cholesterol?

The answer to that reveals the eternal devil's bargain: by living. Not long after getting word of my lethal numbers, I turned to one of my colleagues, who told me the best way to deal with the problem at hand: "Become a vegetarian."

That appealed to me little. Also, in my prejudiced judgment vegetarians are always pale and cold, demanding sweaters, and have a tendency toward passivity.


My friend was only half serious when she suggested this. She knows how obdurate I can be about such things. When she had her crisis of cholesterol, she sanely sought a number of healthy substitutes for her diet. She reported that no-fat yogurt and low-fat Cheddar cheese are edible.

I, of course, insist on being unreasonable. These are approximate foods, and if you are what you eat, and you consume them, it follows that you will wind up an approximate person. That is, not quite human. I have always despised the approximate. I don't like meats that taste like chicken. I like chicken. There is something ignoble about fake eggs, fake butter. They are immoral because they do not represent the truth of things. They are imitations, and an imitation is further removed from the thing it is imitating than that thing's complete opposite.

Besides, eating stuff for health purposes instead of for the pleasure it gives puts me off as most unnatural, and unrewarding in the end.

Perhaps what annoys me most about all this is how it has revealed me to myself. Everybody usually has one moment of painful self-recognition in his or her life, some discouraging epiphany that shows that side of themselves they have always managed to avoid examining.

Now one would think that with all my bravado, that when the bad news finally came I would laugh at the threat, and be a "Diamond Jim" Brady kind of guy, who, when he was told that oysters would be fatal to him, snapped his fingers, and said: "Waiter! A dozen Chincoteagues!" (Or words to that effect.)

What panache! Talking about spitting in the eye of the tiger!

So my big moment comes and how do I respond? Out the window go the beef steaks, the good cheeses, the ice cream. My head goes down; I am beaten, and quite bowed.

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