Learn to Manage Your Health

Here is a link to an excellent article by Maureen Dowd in the New York Times.

Upon reading this article, I found myself recalling the many quarrels I have had with the medical profession over the years. Somewhat more realistically than stated by Maureen Dowd, doctors are often more like members of a priesthood than gods; witness the furor throughout the medical profession when Barry Marshall proved that peptic ulcers were caused by helicobacter pylori, it was as though he was preaching some heretical doctrine.

My own experiences with doctors date from childhood bouts with tonsilitis, when my family physician and the school physician offered opposing views of what the proper treatment should be. “Medicate!” said one, “No! Have the tonsils removed.” protested the other. Then there were the three doctors who, when fully informed by me of the etiology of a problem that I was having, took three subsequent visits to arrive at the diagnosis I suggested on my very first visit, meanwhile prescribing medication — NSAIDS — that had no effect; and if I had continued taking the NSAIDS, they could very well have caused additional problems. Eventually, we all agreed on my original self-diagnosis, and the problem was healed by taking a one-week vacation and ramping up the therapy that I had begun before ever consulting any doctors.

In more recent years, I have experienced intermittent problems with an irritable bowel, with a herniated disc and with rheumatoid arthritis. I didn’t consult any physicians for any of these problems because I understood what they were and how to deal with them. The irritable bowel was tamed by varying bulky and granular foods. The herniated disc was healed by careful exercise, increased food intake and more bed rest. And the arthritis was handled with careful exercise and the addition of a bit of honey to my diet.

Think of the body as a vehicle and the brain as a navigator. If we had to pass a “driving test” to operate our bodies, too many of us would fail. Instead, we try to use physicians like chauffers, and expect them to do the navigating for us. We need to improve public school education in the areas of health and wellness. But we also need to rethink the uses and abuses of health insurance. People who can afford to hire chauffeurs to drive them around do not use insurance to pay for that privilege. Insurance was devised to cover extraordinary losses of ships, cargo and buildings, due to things like fires, floods or maritime mishaps.

In my own case, I have worn corrective lenses since adolescence. But even when replacement of my glasses or contacts has been covered by my health insurance, I have paid the costs out of pocket; I considered such replacement a “standard living expense,” one I could easily plan for and afford, and I no more considered using insurance to cover those costs than a business should consider using insurance to buy replacement laser cartridges or copy paper. And on the few occasions when I have been involved in auto accidents, bitten by a dog, etc., I have strongly opposed compensation by insurers of the people who felt responsible, insisting that I would prefer to sign a quitclaim absolving the insurer and the insured of any responsibility, and in every case but one, that is precisely what I did; in the exceptional case, the insurer sent me a check to reimburse $10.50 in doctor’s fees.
 When I was a child, many people seemed to believe that exposure to cold air, standing in front of an open refrigerator door or going out in the cold improperly dressed, could cause you to catch cold.  But as an active member of a Boy Scout troop that often went pup tent camping in late fall or winter I learned that was nonsense. 
If I had a cold at the beginning of the weekend, when I returned home the cold would be gone.  I thought that the cold air made it difficult for germs to survive, but that was not the reason — at least not entirely — for the cold symptoms disappearing.  Today I have a more complete, better reasoned and imperically verified picture of what it takes to control cold symptoms or symptoms of chronic bronchitis and it is quite against conventional “wisdom” on the subject.   

 So what is the answer, more bed rest?  No, that is precisely the wrong thing to do.  When you are resting, your breathing is diminished and irritants in the nose, lungs and bronchial passages tend to remain pretty much in place, perhaps even accumulate.  Suppose that something on the stove was burning and pouring smoke into the kitchen.  You would get rid of the smoke and odorous material by turning on an exhaust fan.  And so it is with congestion and mucus in your body.  To expel the irritants that cause them, you should get more exercise to increase breathing activity.  When my cold symptoms disappeared on camping weekends, it was because of my increased activity and the corresponding increase in breathing — much like turning on the fan in the kitchen. 

 As a smoker, I occasionally experience bronchitis, and when I do, I take a brisk walk for a couple of miles and the bronchia quckly clear up.  If I don’t do that, mucus builds up and I find myself trying to cough up phlegm.


If you wish to learn more about managing your own health, there are a limited number of free online classes available at ALISON.com.

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