It was a few month back when I had my annual physical examination. After paying little regard to my health during my teens and twenties, I’ve become much more attentive since hitting the big 3-0.
Right about the time I entered my thirties I noticed I couldn’t go up and down the basketball court like I once could. An afternoon of flinging the pigskin around with the fellas left me with a sore arm the next day.
While I’m hardly fitness buff, and certainly don’t eat as well as I should, I try to offset this by making regular visits to my local “sawbones” for a comprehensive physical examination. Each year he says the same things: all my numbers are good, I need to exercise more, and take it easy on dairy and the fried foods. Aside from the occasional sinus infection every other year or so, I’m seldom under the weather. I haven’t missed a day of work for a health-related matter in years, knock on wood and praise God.
On one hand, being married to a woman with a preternaturally intuitive understanding of human physiology helps. I swear, her skills in the art of medical diagnosis are positively occult, despite a paucity of specialized training. Based on a single sniffle she can tell exactly what malady our children are soon to encounter… as well as what variety of blooming mold spore is the root cause.
All this to say: I have a healthy respect for good sound diagnosis. Screenings for disease or other serious medical conditions are of vital importance, especially since we now have the technology to stem the onset of certain afflictions… provided they are caught and treated in time.
It just makes sense: you catch a problem when it’s small and manageable; you minimize the damage it can do. I do the same thing when my kids break into the soda pop. I read an article in a medical journal earlier this week that printed some of the best evidence I’ve ever seen connecting early colonoscopies to preventing colon cancer death. Almost made me want to run out and schedule my first colonoscopy. Almost.
But there’s a bit more to the story, and the still small voice in the back of my mind cautions there’s a fine line dividing prudent stewardship of one’s health and a slippery slope down toward Hypochondria.
I understand that is a growing discord among many professionals within the medical field who wonder if this zeal for diagnosis isn’t misplaced at best and dishonest at worst. Even among the aforementioned colon cancer study, there were criticisms leveled at the researchers, saying their group sampling was corrupted because the test cases were Americans of above-average health and, thus, not as much at-risk for the disease.
Talk to any parent whose child has been diagnosed with ADD/ADHD, or anywhere along the Autism spectrum, and you’re bound to hear horror stories of overdiagnosis and, consequently, overmedication of youngsters. Youngsters whose only ailment is that they are high-energy or prefer to keep to themselves.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying throw out screenings altogether or even that all early diagnosis are by their nature faulty. I’m fairly certain that emergency room personnel would rather see patients early in the course of their heart attack than wait until they develop low blood pressure and an irregular heartbeat. For the same reason women with a history of breast cancer should start making inquiries at the first sign of trouble, if not a bit earlier.
All I’m suggesting is that there’s a fundamental difference between preventative maintenance and better living through chemistry.
I think folks for too long have treated medical practitioners as oracles, able to cast a spell of long life over any that come into their thrall… which is unfair to doctor and patient alike.
Doctors are often highly-skilled and capable of doing much good to sustain and improve life, but so too are you able to take the reins of your own physiology. By making good choices and seeing your good health as a sacred garden that must be cultivated.
My doctor almost always gives me a hard time. Whether it’s invoking the fact that I’m a shepherd and provider for my own minor flock, and thus need to live long enough to properly care for them, or simply scoring a few sharp jabs at my pride reminding me of the athletic prowess I enjoyed in my younger years. Either way, he drives home a very simply point: that he (and his colleagues in the medical profession) can only fix what has first been damaged. That the burden for maintaining the relatively stalwart health I’ve been blessed with rest sorely upon my own broad shoulders.
“Yeah, it might cost you a little bit of money to stay healthy,” he says, “But it’s even more expensive to get sick!”