Physical

An American Checkup

By James McManus
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Hardcover, 9780374232023, 272pp.)

Publication Date: January 2006

Other Editions of This Title: Paperback

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Physical is the story of a hard-living, happily married, middle-aged American (the author) who gets a three-day "executive checkup" at the Mayo Clinic and is thereby forced to confront his mortality, not to mention glove-wearing doctors and the pair of dominatrix-esque technicians who supervise his stress test quite strictly. James McManus must understand his revised actuarial odds in the light of his not-so-long-lived forebears and the fact that his youngest children are only six and five years old. He has to survive his own cardiovascular system, inherited habits, and genetic handicaps long enough to see Bea and Grace into adulthood. But with so much at stake, and in spite of his terror of death, he may not have the willpower to follow the Mayo clinicians' advice. On a related health front, McManus's twenty-nine-year-old daughter, Bridget, has lived with juvenile diabetes since she was four, and the Bush Administration's opposition to the stem cell research that could save her life makes him feel like he "might have to do something rash." Meanwhile, should he have a vasectomy? Or try for another child, having lost his only son? How much longer will he be able to perform such manly feats without Viagra? Is his grateful wife sleeping with the brilliant ophthalmological surgeon who saved their daughter's vision? Physical negotiates the political and medical forks in the labyrinth of our health care system and calls for sanity and enlightenment in the stem cell research wars. It's a no-holds-barred, wrenching, but often hilarious portrait of the looming mortality of a privileged generation that can't believe the party's winding down, if not over. James McManus, the author of Positively Fifth Street and four novels, including Going to the Sun, is the poker columnist for The New York Times. In 2001 he received the Peter Lisagor Award for sports journalism. A portion of Physical that appeared in Esquire has been anthologized in The Best American Science and Nature Writing, Best American Magazine Writing, and Best American Political Writing. He teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Physical is the story of a hard-living, happily married, middle-aged American (the author) who gets a three-day "executive checkup" at the Mayo Clinic and is thereby forced to confront his mortality, not to mention glove-wearing doctors and the pair of dominatrix-esque technicians who supervise his stress test quite strictly. James McManus must understand his revised actuarial odds in the light of his not-so-long-lived forebears and the fact that his youngest children are only six and five years old. He has to survive his own cardiovascular system, inherited habits, and genetic handicaps long enough to see Bea and Grace into adulthood. But with so much at stake, and in spite of his terror of death, he may not have the willpower to follow the Mayo clinicians' advice.

On a related health front, McManus's twenty-nine-year-old daughter, Bridget, has lived with juvenile diabetes since she was four, and the Bush Administration's opposition to the stem cell research that could save her life makes him feel like he "might have to do something rash." Meanwhile, should he have a vasectomy? Or try for another child, having lost his only son? How much longer will he be able to perform such manly feats without Viagra? Is his grateful wife sleeping with the brilliant ophthalmological surgeon who saved their daughter's vision? Physical negotiates the political and medical forks in the labyrinth of our health care system and calls for sanity and enlightenment in the stem cell research wars. It's a no-holds-barred, wrenching, but often hilarious portrait of the looming mortality of a privileged generation that can't believe the party's winding down, if not over. "The majority of us find medical matters an intimidating mystery. McManus's grab bag of personal anecdote, medical history and polemic offers an entertaining and often insightful look at one man's experience with the healthcare system. If there's any message to take away from McManus's book, it's to enjoy your good health so long as you still have it. Once you lose it, getting it back is an all consuming task."—Ed Nawotka, San Francisco Chronicle "McManus's jeremiads about George W. Bush's 'fixed-in-Sakrete' mentality can be just as compelling as his comic observations about his Mayo trip, and he has more than a few tart rejoinders to conservative attitudes about stem-cell research."—Chicago Sun-Times "[McManus] addresses a topic that should concern everyone including faddish cardplayers—our national health. For a magazine assignment McManus undergoes the Mayo Clinic's storied 'executive physical,' including an undignified but essential colonoscopy. McManus's $8,484.25 Mayo checkup? Harper's picked up the tab, but as he notes, 45 million Americans have no health coverage at all. If you're one of 'em, good luck getting that colonoscopy."—Jerome Ludwig, Chicago Reader "When New York Times poker columnist McManus visited the Mayo Clinic for an extensive—and invasive—physical, he came face-to-face with the newest realization of millions of baby boomers: mortality. Furthermore, to live to the fullest extent his remaining years in this mortal coil, he would have to clean up his act. Easier said than done for the fiftysomething lover of rich foods, hard liquor, and the occasional postprandial cigarette. Undergoing Mayo's three-day, head-to-toe, inside-and-out, executive physical induces self-deprecating reflection on the consequences of a lifetime of indulgences. While he wants to be around when his two youngest daughters graduate from college, he knows the road ahead will be tough. With his unusual lifestyle (long nights of poker), love for baked ziti, and a family history of heart disease, he's being asked to make some serious sacrifices. Will he succeed? Tune in next book. In the meantime, McManus uses the lighthearted account of his physical to launch serious-as-a-heart-attack discussion of the current state of health care in the U.S., zeroing in on stem-cell research (he has a 30-year-old daughter with juvenile diabetes) and blasting government policies that impair progress by limiting research possibilities."—Donna Chavez, Booklist (starred review) "As McManus admits, he's been spending too much time on his duff, playing poker and eating third helpings of his wife's cooking. He also likes his liquor and his postprandial cigarette—all bad things given his family history of early heart attacks and death. In this disjointed, sometimes uproarious, sometimes powerful book, Mcmanus describes his experience of the über-physical—the executive physical at the Mayo Clinic. McManus does amazing high-energy riffs on themes like our belief in our own immortality, and assesses the manner and personalities of his doctors as keenly as they examine him. One wonders whether he needed an $8,000 physical to learn he should exercise more, eat and drink less and cut out the smoking, but the tour of the remarkable Mayo Clinic and the best physical money can buy is well worthwhile. Equally strong is a recounting of his older daughter Bridget's struggle with juvenile diabetes, which leads to forceful . . . rants against President Bush for virtually banning embryonic stem cell research (which could lead to a cure for diabetes)."—Publishers Weekly




About the Author

James McManus, the author of Positively Fifth Street (FSG, 2003) and four novels, including Going to the Sun, is the poker columnist for The New York Times. In 2001 he received the Peter Lisagor Award for sports journalism. A portion of Physical that appeared in Esquire has been anthologized in The Best American Science and Nature Writing, Best American Magazine Writing, and Best American Political Writing. He teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

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