Sunday, May 06, 2007

Two Medical Truths

Hearing stories like Snickollet’s makes everyone—including me—nervous. What if what happened to her husband happens to me? we ask. And then: How can I make sure that doesn’t happen to me?

The short answer is, you can’t. When someone comes come to me and says “I want to be tested for everything,” I try to explain that most dread diseases can’t be “caught early” and that it’s actually dangerous to be tested for things you’re not at high risk for, but I know that this isn’t reassuring.

The truth is scary. The truth is that any of us, no matter how healthy our lifestyle, can be struck down by something awful at any time. Most of us won’t, but there are no guarantees.

There are really only two things you can do to vastly increase your chances of living a long and healthy life, and neither of them is something that I can order a test or write a prescription for. Nor will they make the cover of any magazine. They are:

1. Don’t smoke


2. ALWAYS buckle your seatbelt.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t exercise, eat healthfully, wear sunscreen, get a Pap smear, or be checked for high blood pressure. But honestly, worrying about any of those things when you haven’t taken care of the first two is like worrying about whether your underwear is clean while you’re stepping in front of a bus. (As for worrying about any of the latest health fads—don’t get me started.)

My advice? Do what you can to keep yourself safe and whole; do your best not to fret about what can’t be foreseen or prevented; and savor your time on this earth.


meno said...

1) Ok, i won't
2.) i always do, even if backing the damn car 10 feet out of the garage. It's a habit.

But watching "House" isn't really helping in calming people's fears about every weird desease in the owrld. :)

Anonymous said...

Brilliant advice DoctorMama! And being a one year today breast cancer survivor I know that you can't worry about tomorrow and must embrace today.

yatima said...

Thanks Doctormama; I don't and I do. And the husband doesn't and does, too.

Ran my second 5k race this morning after starting the maggot program in March. 33:44, so just under 11 minutes per mile. I feel pretty :)

Anonymous said...

(As for worrying about any of the latest health fads—don’t get me started.)

Oh, please do start. I love it when you start. You're ravishing when you start!

(Coincidentally, I just got back from an originally-inspired-by-Dr.-Mama run myself — congratulations, yatima!)

Anonymous said...

Yes, please do talk about the fads! I hate it every time the news changes about what is best for us to eat and how much exercise we're supposed to get. I feel intense guilt about my apparently substandard diet and exercise habits. But I don't smoke and I wear my seat belt!! I also have my 2-yo rearfacing in her car seat b/c it's safest, although I know people think this is weird. Car safety is really important to me...I wish I could armorplate my vehicle or something.

DrSpouse said...

Hello DoctorMama, glad to see you still exist, do you have a good post up your sleeve on running in pregnancy?

I've been running since about November and got up to about 30 minutes nonstop but I'm much too nervous to run at the moment (6w pregnant - 4th time). However if my boobs settle down a bit and everything goes OK I was thinking of starting again in a few weeks - starting slow - all advice gratefully received.

Snickollet said...

Good advice.

I'm running tomorrow morning. I will think of you as I toddle along.

E. said...

Yes, good advice all around. I still can't help but worry about a possible avian flu pandemic, but I try to keep those worries to a reasonable level (at least enough so that I don't take up smoking as a coping mechanism).

XE said...

Good advice.

Anonymous said...

Some days I can take this advice. Some days, fretting is beyond my control. Except for how my health impacts others I don't worry about it. But dang do I worry insanely about everyone else's health! I want to test THEM for everything. It's worse--you can't get your loved ones to quit smoking and wear their seat belts. I wish I had the power to protect them all--from themselves, much of the time.

Anonymous said...

This is really a wonderful sharing. Your advices are equally good and makes us to be better person. With the truth are hard to prevail and scary, but this time we have to be strong enough.

Glenda said...

DH went to his doc a couple weeks ago and his doc wanted to confirm that DH was, indeed, still a nonsmoker. DH told doc yes, he'd quit smoking 6 years ago and hadn't started back up. Doc was relieved, said he'd been seeing so many cases of lung cancer recently. I've never smoked. When DH and I met, he immediately got into the habit of smoking outside, so he wouldn't subject me (and, later, DS) to secondhand smoke. Oh was I glad when he finally quit smoking!!

Our neighbor recently completed chemo for ovarian (I think) cancer. Her husband, a heavy-duty cigar smoker (with heart problems, no less), sometimes smokes inside their house still . . . and wonders why their daughter gets so upset about that. ::: sigh :::

I love that my son and his cousins have the seat belt rule so ingrained in them that if you begin to back down the driveway before they're buckled, they will holler, "I'm not buckled!!!" (even though I knew that and wasn't going to back out into the street until they were). It saddens me to read the local paper and discover how many people die or are critically injured because they were ejected from their vehicles when an accident occurred; even worse when it's kids :(

Orange said...

The only time I don't wear a seatbelt is when I've unloaded groceries at my front door and drive a third of a block to the parking lot--but if Ben's in the car with me, I do buckle up. Mr. Tangerine doesn't always get his belt buckled before we leave the parking lot--but Ben will alert us loudly if he's not buckled into his booster yet.

As for smoking, we just had a fancypants dinner in Liverpool, the kind of place that has asparagus spume on things. My plate of fish arrived with a glass fishbowl inverted over it, and when removed, it unleashed a cloud of what smelled exactly like sweet pipe smoke. Does that count as smoking?

Jen Taurus said...

You are such a nice writer. I fear the odds are against me. I was asthmatic as a child and have bad allergies. My mom, brothers (4) and girlfiends, Sister (1) and her boyfriend and various friends all smoked in the house I tried to grow up in. Atleast 10 smokers at a time. I'm doomed. I never smoked and refuse to let anyone smoke near or around me.

Our local hospital banned smoking and i Saw a nurse outside in the rain smoking a cigarette in the street. Lifes gotta be bad to stoop to those levels.

I know your profile says burned out, I would love to be a dr, for the social and economic status it brings. Working in banking doesn't carry any ummoph unless your in the top 10 making half a mill or more a year.

Your blog is fun, I think I might like you outside of the internet. Who do I make my copay out to?

The NJ governor showed how the value of the seat belt is necessary and how grossly poor his judgement was, he's lucky to have not lost his life.

Anonymous said...

Here in Oregon, you can get fined for not wearing a seatbelt. I don't even think twice anymore about belting in. I think if I were to try driving or riding in a car withut a seatbelt, it would feel alien to me now.

I smoked for four years (during college), then quit. It's been 14 years without a cigarette, and I've never been happier. I just wish I had never started. I sometimes wonder if my years of smoking did any damage that may show up later in life. I don't really dwell on this though.

The only other health-related area of my life that I am extremely vigilant about is getting my annual Pap smear. I've read CDC estimates that 80% of sexually-active women have been exposed to some form of genital HPV before the age of 50. You may be able to clarify, DoctorMama, but isn't cervical cancer one of the easiest cancers to catch and treat early, provided a woman has been getting regular Pap smears? I'd be interested in your thoughts.

Anyway, thank you for the useful information you post, especially from your perspective as a physician!

techreader said...

I would add one item: "Moderation in all things."

Don't eat too much. Have one or two drinks, but not too many. Get some sun, but not too much. Get some exercise, but not at the expense of other things. Don't watch too much TV, or play too many computer games, or work too much. Don't obsess about things; we're all going to die someday, and good health is merely the slowest way to die.

Enjoy your life. In moderation.

Anonymous said...

Wow, that's a wonderful sharing of ideas. I trully take the advice as its looks very important for the future. There are also an addition is that we have also keyin our spirituality by having joy and peace in our mind to be healthy.

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