Monday, March 5, 2012

Health by Numbers - Part 1

Apparently, staying alive these days is complicated.

There’s been all kinds of data complied through all sorts of scientific studies that basically say most of us should be dead by now.

But we’re not…for the most part.

Despite the data and the studies, I can guarantee that everyone reading this is still alive.

Well…I shouldn’t say guarantee. Nothing is guaranteed, especially when it comes to healthcare.

If you’re perfectly healthy and ask a doctor if you’re at risk for having a life threating medical event in the next 24 hours, the best you’ll get out of them is that there’s a less than 1% chance that you will.

Can’t be too careful.

So I’ll say there is a less than 1% chance that anyone reading this is actually dead.

Can’t be too careful.

Health today seems to be determined not by how you feel, but by the numbers.

Weight, blood pressure and cholesterol seem to be the big ones…the trifecta of health determination.

If you hit the numbers right, you have a good chance of living into your second century, but if you miss them…well…purchasing an extended warranty on your new car probably isn’t necessary.

At least that’s what the studies, doctors and pharmaceutical suppliers tell you…and I guess with good reason.

If you’re five feet tall, weigh 250 pounds with a total cholesterol of 340 and a BP of 195 over 90 then I would say you have some work to do.

But if you’re of average height and weight with average to slightly elevated trifecta numbers, do we really need doctors to scare the bejejuus out of us?

A lot of you will say…“Yes…yes we do…especially YOU!”

But that would be Z, talking to me…and maybe she’s right; after all she is a healthcare professional in her own right. 

But, I’ve always been a believer in listening to my own body. 

I’ve tried listening to other people’s bodies but the police tend to frown on that.

So I pay pretty good attention to mine. 

Mostly my body has nothing but good things to say. It’s a very polite body and usually keeps to itself.

Well…except for my knees and sometimes my C something vertebrae in my neck, which likes to complain from time to time by shooting bolts of lightning down my arm and into my fingers if I do something stupid like moving boulders in the back yard.  And once in while my lower back likes to remind me of those 25 years of running, especially if I lift up the back of the car while Z rotates the tires.

But those are just structural things, and when they become problematic I usually go and see someone who mumbles a few words I don’t understand, sacrifices a chicken…and I’m good to go.

But as far as all that number checking is concerned, my body was always telling me… “Forget about it; you’re fine. And how about putting extra cheese and peperoni on that pizza tonight…”

So I did, and avoided things like physicals and such for the last 18 years or so.

And I was fine…am fine…and should continue to be fine in the very expected long term future.

Except of course for that less than 1% chance…

Can’t be too careful….

But I did finally go to see a doctor…at first for a persistent cough I was having trouble shaking, and some self-diagnosed acid reflux, which I first noticed in July. This presumed reflux, the latest scourge of middle age, presented itself as an occasional, slight burning sensation in my upper chest area, and I surmised, through my diligent Goggling, was probably responsible for the cough, as well. 

I walk about 4, sometimes 8, miles in a day, some 5 or 6 days a week, so I was never concerned about my heart. Plus, we’re very close, my heart and I, and I know it would never lie to me. However, the burning mostly revealed itself after about 5 minutes into a walk, would stick around for about 5 minutes more and then pretty much disappear for the rest of the time.

So, one wonders. Hearts can be very vague at times, especially when it suits them.

In any case, I’m pretty good with denial and I was comfortable with the idea that this was a gastric thing since, while I’m close to my heart, and attached to all my organs, for that matter, my stomach has been known to step out and betray me every once in a while.

Once I caught on to that, I’d just pop a Pepcid before walking and it seemed to mute the problem if not eliminate it all together.

I lost some weight; 17 pounds of my “Fat Summer” weight, which probably brought this whole thing on in the first place, but the problem persisted on into the fall and throughout the winter, where I relocated about 6 or 7 of those missing pounds.

I kept saying to everyone—those who kept telling me to go see a doctor and, at least, get all those important numbers checked, for the last 10 or 12 years—that I was going to do just that…very soon. 

I even had a doc picked out…but he retired.

So that got me at least through the holidays…which I thought would get me through the winter, until Z kept asking me about the burning, which I said was fine, to which she replied, in her very compassionate healthcare professional manner…”YOU ASS, YOU COULD HAVE LUNG CANCER OR A BLOCKAGE IN YOUR HEART THAT COULD SUDDENLY BREAK OFF AND YOU’LL JUST DROP DEAD ON THE SIDE OF THE ROAD…but it’s up to you…

Well, since I do walk alone, quite often, on remote roads in wooded locations, the thought, no matter how farfetched, of possibly becoming coyote food was not all that appealing.

So I took Z’s subtle hint, found a new doctor—a very young doctor—and made the appointment…but, at first, only to discuss the cough, and confirm the self-diagnosed reflux. 

I wasn’t about to mention the exercise burning thing, knowing all the bells and whistles that was bound to set off.

Next time, lest I bore you with all the details now, I’ll go into that adventure and the end result.

Again…I know I’m ruining a perfectly good suspenseful ending, but I’m not one to create false expectations for those who are not big fans of these Retorts…so the bottom line is:

I was fine…am fine…and should continue to be fine in the very expected long term future.

Except of course for that less than 1% of chance…

Can’t be too careful….

But the road to fine, even when you know you’re fine, can get very over blown.

And you KNOW I wouldn’t exaggerate any of that….

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