Healthy Journalism

Monday, April 5, 2010

Eat right, keep fit, die anyway


At my house, we refer to them collectively as "the fish." As in, have you fed the fish, checked the water temperature, or dipped leaves out of the pond.


Our stewardship of the 13 koi who came with the house is at the public health level: they're all fed at once and we tailor the type of food to the water temperature. Their water is clean and they have room and leisure time to exercise.


But last month one of them died with no warning. No swellings or lesions that popped up and worsened with time, no unbalanced swimming or gasping to signal trouble. All 13 looked fine when I fed them that morning and they broke the surface and competed for their share of the color-enhancing floating koi kibble. That evening, one was still.


A friend had dubbed this fish "Braniff" because he was solid white with a bright orange tail, reminding her of a Swedish airline that added brightly-colored tails to its planes as a kind of pop-art lark back in the 1970s. He was one of six fish born and raised in the pond, not one of the seven who came there as small fry.


When I called the pond guy, worried that an undetected infection might be about to kill them all, he said no, the fish had simply reached a certain age. Brace yourself for more deaths, he said. These fish are over 20, and that's old.


Twelve of them are still swimming around today, thanks to the sound hygiene, diet and exercise measures they enjoy.


Back when I was editing the Harvard Health Letter, whose loyal subscribers sometimes seemed to believe they could keep the inevitable at bay, someone gave me a button that said "Eat right, keep fit, die anyway."


Braniff's death sent the same message: Memento mori, fish style.

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