You are the owner of this article.
You have permission to edit this article.

HERB BENHAM: Take two on a road trip, call me after

You never feel worse than the day you see the cardiologist. Whether you’re healthy, on death’s door or somewhere in between, it’s like walking into the arena with 40,000 excitable Romans in the stands ready to give you a thumbs-up or thumbs-down.

I’d booked an appointment because of a trip Sue and I are taking. I’d had what people call an episode while surfing in Ventura a week ago.

Before going to the cardiologist, I consulted Dr. Benham. Dr. Benham has been practicing for years, mostly on himself, but occasionally on unwitting friends who are willing to park their common sense at the door.

Dr. Benham decided it must have been dehydration. Dr. Benham mentioned exhaustion. Dr. Benham suggested it might be overexertion.

Mrs. Benham was not impressed by Dr. Benham. Not his medical credential nor his theories, which he has fished out of the Cracker Jack box of life lessons.

We were going on a trip and she wasn’t looking forward to a sequel to “Weekend at Bernie’s.” You know the movie where Bernie dies but nobody notices. If that happened, she’d notice and might have to strap me to the top of the car like a deer.

I felt nauseous the morning of my appointment. I was a goner. Costco sold coffins; I wondered if they also handled cremations.

Who likes going to the doctor’s office? The problem with a doctor's office is it is usually located among a sea of other doctor’s offices. If the doctors throw up their hands, there is a hospital nearby to sweep up the rest of you.

The office was on the second floor. I chose the staircase over the elevator. I wanted to make a good impression in case they asked which one I had chosen.

Waiting rooms can be competitive. I like to look around and see how I stack up. I’d prefer to be younger and healthier than my competition and capable of dropping down and giving the staff 20 if necessary.

When it was my turn, the nurse threw a right jab I wasn’t expecting. After taking my vitals, she gave me an EKG. My blood pressure soared like a red-tailed hawk. I’m surprised I didn’t have a heart attack on the spot.

The nurse moved me from that room to another room telling me that the doctor would arrive in a few minutes. I wondered what he would look like, How old he was. Whether he’d give me a thumbs-up or -down.

Somebody knocked a few minutes later. It was the doctor’s knock. Polite, as if he were asking for my permission. He could have flung the door open like Kramer and slid across the polished tile floor.

He was young. He was from Bakersfield. He’d gone to East High and been lured home to practice. He also exuded health, which was reassuring because whatever happened, at least one of us was healthy and, if I wasn’t, maybe some of what he had would rub off.

We went through the risk factors. Smoking — no. When he asked me about drinking, I tried a joke. I told him I drank occasionally, occasionally every night. I thought it was funny. He smiled, I think he smiled.

His name was Caleb Thompson. I liked him. We agreed on a plan. Go on the trip and we’d meet later.

Who knows about this stuff? One minute you think you're "lights out" and the next, you realize it’s been days since you thought about your imminent mortality. People are a mystery. People are a mess. Even Dr. Benham knows that.

Herb Benham is a columnist for The Bakersfield Californian and can be reached at or 661-395-7279.