Home > Critic-At-Large > One Ounce of Prevention
One Ounce of Prevention
By Chris Colcord
Fort Wayne Reader
Hands down, the single greatest way to bore people to death is by talking about your various health issues in great detail. It doesn't matter how old you are, or how severe your physical concerns may be, or how deeply the person you've trapped into listening might care about you. It is a simple, ineluctable fact of life that people would rather do anything — clean the pool, castrate a goat, strike up a conversation with panhandlers — than listen to you bitch about your endless physical ailments.
It's one of the perversities of human biology, then, that we are sort of unfortunately hard-wired with this very impulse — as soon as we begin to notice a cough, a tickle, dizziness, something off, an almost compulsive desire to describe it to someone else starts to overtake us. The reason for this is actually quite fascinating — not to get into too great detail (physiology is not my strong suit), but basically so much of our energies are devoted to survival that when we become conscious of a threat to our well-being, our senses become hyper-aware and vigilant and focused on the invading agent. This sudden, all-encompassing attention can cause great weariness and by telling someone else, we shift some of the burden of taking care of ourselves to another party.
It's why you should always see a doctor, if possible, whey you notice something is wrong — not so much that the doctor will "cure" you, but just so you'll get a break, however brief, from the omnipresent worrying. There's ample medical evidence that indicates that relieving yourself mentally of some of your concerns will do wonders for your physical self as well.
All of this stuff has been on my mind quite a lot in the past few months, for, after years of having virtually no contact with medical personnel, I've recently joined the ranks of the properly insured in this country and actually have someone that I call "my doctor." (First time since 1998, and no, it's not because of the ACA.) I'm currently doing that thing that all the newly insured people do — once you hit your deductible, you try to cram as many procedures and tests as possible into the remaining time on your coverage year. It's like going to the buffet and filling your plate a dozen times; you already paid for it, so why not?
What I'm really doing, of course, is trying to counteract, in a few months, decades-worth of corrosive living, and while I know that that's hardly a rock-solid plan to ensure a long healthy existence, it's the only one I got. Like many Americans, I lived paycheck-to-paycheck for many years, and though I worked for conscientious businesses that tried to provide affordable health coverage, I decide to gamble on my relative healthiness at the time and forego any insurance. Foolish, I know, and it's probably not necessary to add that I've never been blessed with an abundance of foresight. But I'd like to point out that it's hard, from the lofty perch of middle age, to really remember what it's like to be a bulletproof, fire-breathing twenty-something who's never had a second of health concerns. You really do feel like things will never change, that you'll always be able to drink all night, get twenty minutes of sleep, and then show up at work, on time, and pull a full shift fueled by nothing but coffee and bravado.
When I did finally realize that there was a piper to be paid for my behavior I was of course in an untenable situation — uninsured, uninsurable, and with some disconcerting physical symptoms suddenly showing up in the pre-dawn hours. It's a terrible reckoning, when that day finally hits. You start to wonder some pretty heavy-duty thoughts then, some existential thoughts, like: how much is my life worth? Why didn't I play it safe, like everybody else in the world? I don't think I'm overstating the issue when I say that not having insurance is one of the most alienating feelings imaginable: you feel like you don't count, like you're an outsider. A have-not. Your life not worth it.
I remember a specific instance: I was feeling some really disturbing symptoms one day, some numbness in my face (okay, I'm talking about my health, I'm boring you, I know) and so I drove to DuPont Hospital and just sort of lurked near the Emergency Room. I kept waiting for my body to do something, one way or another. I was thinking, if I'm not having a stroke, I can't afford to check in, but if I'm having a stroke, well, I don't want to die. So I just stayed there, sweating, pacing, trying to figure out what was going to happen to me. Not what I was going to do. What was going to happen to me. It's the lament of all the uninsured, the powerlessness and the helplessness and the waiting, the waiting.
Fortunately, the numbness went away, and my recent binge of medical procedures finally answered what caused it in the first place. I'm going to continue my checklist of every possible test now, the whole medical car wash, from head to toe. It's something I hope every person who signed up for the ACA gets to do as well — the combo pack, the whole nine yards. They deserve it; nobody should be marooned off the ER, wondering if they can afford to live. They should get every damned test available. Just as long as they don't talk about it, of course.