A teen in a lab coat came to collect me from the waiting room and I assumed she was a candy striper.
“Hello, I’m Dr. Tran,” she said, extending her dainty hand to shake my sun-spotted claw. A petite young woman with flawless skin, she wore a lab coat over a familiar J. Crew plaid shirt.
“We’re wearing the same shirt,” I said.
Her face lit up. “I like your style.”
“Hashtag Twinning!” I said.
“They have such great sales. I got this for $20,” she said.
I decided then and there that this young woman had made all the right decisions in life — achieving a Ph.D. by 16, and successfully sniffing out great bargains. She diagnosed me with mild Eustachian tube disorder, which meant I was a middle-aged woman, in a full-price shirt, with clogged ears due to allergies. I had clearly made a wrong turn somewhere.
This visit followed yet another disappointing health revelation. Six months prior, I found out that, for the first time ever, my cholesterol had surpassed 200 with the bad cholesterol in “heart attack eligible” range. I’d been a pescatarian most of my life, maintained a healthy weight, and avoided most fatty foods. But in spite of treating my body like a reliable Honda Civic, the engine was showing signs of corrosion.
For the next six months, I avoided anything that could be categorized as “delicious.” So long, cheese! Arrivederci, donuts! Au revoir, Boozy Fruit Punch! I ate tons of apples, switched to soy cheese, and consumed enough salad to feed the entire population of Vatican City. When it was time to retake the test, I marched into the lab with the confidence of Charlamagne, certain I had vanquished bad cholesterol.
Two days later, the results were in: my cholesterol was down a lousy 12 points but not the bad cholesterol — it thrived.
My 90-pound mother tried to console me on the phone. “It runs in our family. My father dropped dead of a heart attack at 50.”
“If those are my odds, I better get my affairs in order,” I said.
As I was crafting my “Goodbye Cruel World” status update on Facebook, a French medical video caught my eye. My français is trés rusty, but the main gist, as far as I could gather, was that high cholesterol is a scam manufactured by pharmaceutical companies to push dangerous meds. This was a life path moment, the proverbial door #1 or door #2. I’d already pursued a degree in advertising instead of a Ph.D. and paid full-price at J Crew, but there was still time to make the right choice. Statins or donuts? . . . Gotta run, the donut shop closes in 30 minutes. #Winning!
— Hilary Hattenbach
Winner of the 2016 Mona Schreiber Prize for Humorous Fiction, Hilary Hattenbach is also the co-author of the The Kitchen Decoded Cookbook (Skyhorse 2014) recognized by Buzzfeed in 2017 as one of “21 Cookbooks That Are Actually Worth the Money.” Her work has been featured in Entropy magazine, Chicken Soup for the Soul, and The Eastsider LA. As a live storyteller, Hilary has performed in front of large audiences, including a coveted slot in the NPR station KPCC’s Unheard LA Storytelling series. In her role as a marketing strategist, she’s developed award-winning campaigns for a number of entertainment and lifestyle brands, including The Walt Disney Company, Universal Pictures, Focus Features, 20th Century Fox, Universal Pictures, STX and Amazon Studios.