Universal health care starts at home

While we ponder our New Year’s resolutions, the health-care debate continues. Too expensive, some say. Insufficient coverage, say others. Few analysts air two big reasons our system is so expensive and why our nation continues to lag in basic health rankings. The most important is that so many individuals aren’t willing to take primary responsibility for their own health.

They expect doctors and pill-merchants to keep them healthy. When something goes awry, they take it to a doctor to get it fixed. That attitude has led to an expensive and counter-productive shift of responsibility away from you or me. Yet there is no doubt that primary responsibility for my health rests with me. I should know something about which foods are good for me and which aren’t. I should act on the fact that it is exercise that keeps one toned up, less accident-prone, more disease-resistant and happy.

Society harbors sub-groups with bizarre habits that push health-care costs through the roof. Take drinking drivers, drug users, the swelling (literally) ranks of morbidly obese, out-of-bounds skiers and extreme climbers who tempt fate, couch potatoes, fast-food addicts, smokers. Collectively, they break the health-care bank while expecting doctors to undo the damage they do to their bodies.

Recent visitors to Marysville from a Baltic nation said, “There are so many ‘thick’ people here.” Put photos of crowds in the U.S. next to similar photos from anywhere else in the world and the contrast is startling. We don’t take care of ourselves as we should. In general if a person’s car engine sputters, they’ll get it fixed. If its body gets dented, they’ll have it straightened and repainted. Too many of the same population don’t hold their own bodies to such high standards of performance or attractiveness.

Library shelves are heavy with books about Preventative Medicine. Somewhere in that collection are chapters on Preventable Health-Threats. The main title prescribes steps to counteract what might afflict one’s health. Chapters on preventable health threats would tell us, don’t do the stuff that you know will undercut your physical and mental well-being. The first is voiced by medical professionals on my behalf. The second clearly puts the ball in my court. It says, “Whether you are healthy or not will be the result from your daily decisions about how to live.”

Every turning-point in life ought to carry with it a reaffirmation of one’s responsibility for their own health. Take marriage which might be the greatest turning point of all. What if, as part of wedding vows, the bride and groom should promise “. . . and to keep my body and mind as attractive and healthy as God permits,” and that those vows be recognized, as they should be, as terms in the wedding contract. By letting our bodies go to pot, we don’t just devour health care dollars while shortening our lives, we let each other down, especially those who should be most dear to us.

I’m not so idealistic as to believe that motion in this direction will come to pass soon, but it is obvious that, as a nation of individuals, we don’t care for ourselves as we should which causes a huge, unreasonable and preventable cost and a diminishing of America’s human resources.

Another heavy health-care cost arises from the nature of our relationships with our doctors. Sometimes talks with a doctor are good, other times a doctor’s advice is about as effective as a mother telling pathologically sloppy children to keep their rooms clean. We don’t always listen to our doctors, and when we visit them we too often neglect to share the information they need to help us.

One person might be embarrassed to share complaints about bodily dysfunction. Another might view complaining as un-macho weakness. A great many don’t confess their problems because speaking about them ignites fears. The irrational thought goes like this: “If I say something, the doctor will put a scary name to it, even put me on some expensive and debilitating therapy. I don’t want to go there!”

We have to go there. My doctor can’t function on my behalf unless he has the right information. Nevertheless, a person might be reluctant to air certain complaints. A hidden voice tells them, “If I don’t tell him, he won’t recommend giving up something I like to do, drink or eat. Or what might I keep to myself to avoid uncomfortable or expensive tests.” Worse, is denial that sweeps disturbing events in one’s health-history under the rug so they don’t have to be thought about. Not smart. Self-delusion doesn’t work. It undermines the necessity for frank exposure which is essential to a doctor-patient relationship. Our healthcare system hasn’t room or resources for one to waste their allotted 15 minute consultation disguising conditions that may later erupt as life-threatening.

The best way to get the most from one’s doctor is to make a list. Jot down every significant event or change in health, fitness, appetite, pain, senses, mood or whatever. Make that 15 minutes count. To do less is to saddle our doctors with the disadvantage of veterinarians whose patients can’t speak.

Congress is coming up with a far less-than-perfect health care plan. We can, if we’re up to it, do something to make up for some of its shortcomings. First, we can resolve to treat our bodies well. Second, we can work to make our consultations with medical professionals as productive as possible.

Comments may be addressed to: rgraef@verizon.net.

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