Last week, I talked about taxes, and how we can — albeit rarely — stand up and say “No,” even when the taxing agency’s response is to shut down the library, or close the swimming pool, or keep us out of National Parks (Increasing Taxes: Can We Just Say No?) Whenever voters agitate, government retaliates, but that shouldn’t keep us from standing up now and again.
This week, the person to say “no” to might be your doctor, and of course I preface everything with the caveat that I’m not giving you medical advice, just voicing an opinion, and it’s your responsibility to make the decisions that affect your life. But do recognize that you do have a part — the most significant part, actually — in making the decisions that affect your life.
Not that many years ago, people went to the doctor’s office when they were sick, or if they had broken something. The rest of the time they muddled happily on, and more than one person my age was nursed through a flu, or a cold, or chicken pox, by a parent who fed us chicken soup, insisted that we rest, and commiserated with us on the absolute inanity of afternoon TV, once the game shows were over. Parents had a pretty good, and sensible, eye for what was serious, and what wasn’t. They still do — they’re just told that they don’t.
And then Prevention became the big word, starting with regular well-child visits, progressing to adult wellness, resulting that the entire population demographic shows up on a regular basis for this screening or that. Now, the norm of yesteryear — staying away from waiting rooms filled with coughing people and taking care of yourself, making a doctor’s appointment only when something was wrong — is now considered bad, reckless, and irresponsible.
While it’s true that certain conditions may be detected that might not have earlier, what’s also certain is that more people are walking out of the doctor’s office with prescription slips. Sitting in a doctor’s office is like playing I Spy — within the 15 minutes you wait, shivering in a thin piece of cloth, you see notepads, calendars, pencils, coffee cups, posters, and knick knacks blazoned with the name of various prescription drug companies. It makes you wonder.
Years ago, the Norwegian Artist underwent a series of rigorous tests prior to providing a stem cell transplant to a relative suffering from cancer, and the physician in charge was stunned that the man, in his late forties at the time, took no medication — prescription or otherwise — for anything.
“You are an extremely and unusually healthy man,” he told the Norwegian.
Later, when the extremely and unusually healthy man underwent his ultimate adult wellness checkup (at my request, because I still had a tendency to obey the establishment), the same numbers that had so impressed the first physician prompted the second one to reach for the prescription pad.
“Your numbers are too high,” he said.
“But they are the same as they were when I underwent the tests for the stem cell transplant,” the Norwegian replied, “and the doctor then pronounced me sound and sane.”
“The numbers have changed,” the medico replied.
“Then I would like to address the issue with lifestyle issues first. What do you suggest?”
“What I suggest,” the medico retorted, “is that you do what I tell you. If you’re not going to listen to me, then we have nothing to talk about.”
The Norwegian stared back, took in the overweight, out of shape nature of the man; the stern, inflexible countenance; and the hand hovering over the prescription pad, and said,
“Then I guess we have nothing to talk about.”
That was the last time the Norwegian Artist has been to the doctor’s office, and the next time he visits — he tells me — is when something is significantly broken or lacerated. In the meantime, he eats well, exercises regularly, sleeps deeply (how can anyone drop off 30 seconds after the light goes out?), and enjoys remarkably good health.
“But something hidden could be going on that you don’t know about.”
I hear that voice.
But there’s another voice, as well:
“Something that is a problem only because the numbers have changed — and not because of science but because of economic factors — could get us on a merry-go-round of medication that we don’t really need.”
Your health — like every other aspect of your life — matters most to you, and ultimately, the decisions are in your hands. Ask questions, research options, read articles, and don’t be cowed into obedience by stern looks or advertising campaigns.
This article was originally published in ThoughtfulWomen.org.